Did you mother ever tell you not to play with your food? Well, when you are a chef you are allowed, even required, to play with your food everyday.
People eat with their eyes before they eat with their mouths, goes the mantra at culinary schools everywhere. Creative plating is as essential as choosing the freshest ingredients and balancing flavors, colors and textures in a recipe.
It’s the chef’s role to make the food “pop” for their guests. How can I make this dish memorable, I always ask myself.
Garnish is one solution. A little peice of green onion, a sprig of parsley or a few stategically placed red pepper strips can add color to the plate. Think about an strawberry fanned over an orange slice on the side of a breakfast plate, and you’ll see what I’m driving at.
Another way is to give the plate “height.” In one restaurant, we used to make a lamb shank we (privately) called “Poke-you-in-the-eye lamb shank” for the way the bone protruded up out of the plate. Alternating vegetables into tall stacks bound together with a little onion confit or a tab of mashed potato is another example of adding height to a dish.
But I like to use squash as a vehicle, especially this time of year.
Squash is inexpensive, nutritious, flavorful and, most important, looks amazing on a plate. Butternut, pumpkin, acorn, spaghetti, carnival, calabasa. The list of squashes available right now is a long one. Each has its distinct color and shape.
When I saw a couple of beautiful acorn squash at the Farmers Market last week, my mind gears immediately started to turn, thinking about how to stuff them like a cornaecopia.
Cooked acorn squash stand up on the plate really well. You can cut the tops off them like a jack-o-lantern, fill them with your filling and bake them. Or you can cut them in half and plate them like one of those decorative overturned wheelbarrows with wildflowers sprouting out of them.
Either way, your guests will be impressed by your creativity, as well as your cooking skills.
So, go ahead. Play with your food. Your mother will be so proud!
Stuffed Acorn Squash
1 acorn squash
1 TBS butter, divided into 2 tabs
2 TBS EVOO
1 lb ground turkey (or beef or lamb)
2 cups brown rice, cooked
10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 serrano peppers, ribs and seeds removed, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 oz crumbed Feta cheese
2 TBS dried thyme (or 1 TBS fresh)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup beef stock
1/4 cup grated parmesan
Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
2 sprigs fresh rosemary or other herb for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Cut acorn squash in half and use ice cream scoop to remove seeds and strings. Spray sheet pan and both sides of the squash with pan spray, then lay orange side up on sheet pan. Put the butter tabs inside each half, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft, about 45 minutes.
2. Place cast iron skillet on heat. When hot, add 1 TBS EVOO. When smoking, add turkey and brown until done, about five minutes. Drain fat if necessary and remove to side plate. In same skillet, add the other TBS EVOO. When smoking, add onions, carrots, celery, and serrano peppers and cook until onions translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and cayenne and cook another minute.
3. Return turkey to pan, along with rice, spinach, Feta cheese and beef stock. Stir until heated through, about 2-3 minutes. Season to taste w/ salt and pepper.
4. To plate, place acorn squash at top of plate and push down so the “bucket” is at an angle. Use a serving spoon to fill each squash with filling to make it look like it is pouring out of the squash. Sprinkle with parmesan and garnish with rosemary sprig.
What fun plating concepts are among your favorites? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!