Redefining Seasonal Comforts: Squash

In an industry where trends are always evolving, seasonality provides a foundation that encourages operators to push the boundaries with familiar favorites. As the weather changes, customers seek out warm, hearty dishes and squash makes a comforting, filling seasonal option. Fresh and abundant this time of year, squash boasts a nutritious profile, has far-reaching menu versatility, and can help build your brand with a farm-to-table vibe. Squash can function as the star ingredient that keeps costs down while taking seasonal classics to new heights. Plus, squash is feeling the love right now! According to Datassential, mentions of squash varieties, like delicata, have increased 254% on menus in the past four years and are predicted to grow another 73% over the next four years. With so many varieties to choose from, squash provides unlimited possibilities for fall and winter menus guaranteed to please customers and your bottom line.

Brimming with Benefits

Making squash a focus on your seasonal menu will help you capitalize on its growing popularity and attract customers with diverse varieties. Reap the benefits of squash’s familiarity by serving elevated takes on recognizable selections and experimenting with the exotic types in familiar formats. Add a signature touch to butternut squash soup by topping with a drizzle of coconut cream, candied chestnuts, and crispy sage. Utilize less familiar varieties such as carnival or kabocha to heighten customer interest in items like soups, salads, tacos, and pizza. The versatility and ability of squash to marry with endless flavor profiles provides tremendous opportunity for cross-utilization. Its extensive shelf life also benefits operators through cost-effectiveness and waste reduction. From the rind to the seeds, squash makes it easy to showcase root-to-stem cooking, a top-trending concept customers are willing to invest in.

Fresh Food, Fresh Ideas

Seasonality is the driving force behind an innovative, profitable menu. Utilizing local squash in autumn and winter menus is a natural choice, as chefs can draw inspiration from the various types. Fresh, local products taste better, cost less, and increase the perceived value of a dish. Raise the bar throughout the year with local squash varieties from Maines’ dependable partner, Markon. Markon offers a wide selection of squash that can add character and freshness to your menu and allow for higher price points. Acorn squash, both sweet and nutty, has always been a reliable favorite. Serve it in soups, stuffings, alongside proteins, or use it as the base for an on-trend acorn squash bowl. Or, menu a lesser-known variety that has a similar flavor profile, such as kabocha squash. Try enhancing its natural sweetness by honey roasting it and topping with the creamy nuttiness of black sesame tahini, labneh, and almonds. For an elevated, health-forward offering, feature roasted kabocha squash on a radicchio salad with warm sumac-maple vinaigrette. This squash variety complements an abundance of flavors, as shown in our recipe on page 25 for Kabocha Squash, Prosciutto & Broccoli Lasagna Rolls.

Trendy yet Timeless

The latest trend in squash resides with delicata, because of its sweet, delicate taste and thin, edible skin. The perfect foil for bold flavors, try preparing delicata squash with a curry rub and stuffing with a mixture of spicy black lentils and coconut creamed greens. Highly versatile, delicata squash would work just as well in a galette along with caramelized onions, Camembert, and rosemary. Trendy can also apply to the classics when thoughtfully prepared “outside the box.” Butternut squash, long considered a standard due to its large yield and easy processing, maintains its credibility when prepared creatively. Try incorporating this timeless squash into desserts, such as butternut squash donuts with candied bacon or curried butternut squash gelato with cashew and coconut brittle. This assortment is always a welcome addition to autumn-themed smoothies, roasted and sliced for a pizza topping, or as the punch of flavor in beef stew, seasonal salads, and plant-based offerings.

To Veg or Not to Veg?

Thirty-four percent of consumers say they would be more likely to order dishes made with vegetables instead of carb-rich items (Technomic Inc.). Though technically a fruit, squash has long been considered a vegetable and has become a healthy alternative for carb-heavy vessels like pizza crusts and pastas. These offerings attract not only health-conscious guests but also those looking for gluten-free options. Spaghetti squash as a replacement to pasta is nothing new; however, it provides an excellent platform for high-impact sauces. Serve spaghetti squash “noodles” with lemony cauliflower alfredo, roasted green chile and tomatillo marinara, or eggplant and mushroom bolognese. Offer a spaghetti squash frittata topped with all-natural pepperoni (such as Hormel Natural Choice® All-Natural Uncured Pepperoni #040149) and kabocha cream sauce for a clean and healthy version of comfort food. For more nutritious and nostalgic creations, turn to carnival squash for its buttery, sweet, and nutty flavor. Purée and utilize as the cheese element for a vegan mac and “cheese,” or use as a fresh and unique pizza sauce. Put a sweet spin on carnival squash by blending it with autumn spices to create a limited-time hummingbird cake dessert topped with maple sugar buttercream, or serve in an elegant crème brûlée with ginger-infused sugar.

Squash is a profitable, seasonal canvas that promotes versatility across the menu. Taking advantage of the diverse squash varieties available can help renew inspiration in back-of-house and allow operators to showcase culinary creativity, attracting new customers looking for fresh, farm-to-table options and pleasing frequent diners with reinvented takes on a seasonal favorite.

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