It seems rudimentary to talk about the weather, but the fall so far has blessed us with some welcomed temperatures, and I am really enjoying the changing of the seasons. As many of you know, I have returned to culinary school to finish my degree, and this fall semester is already halfway finished. My Contemporary Cuisine class has stretched and challenged me, and as I write this column, my body aches from the physical demands of the kitchen, but I am pleased with my plates.
Today, for my final, our culinary school kitchen essentially became a functioning back-of-house restaurant, where my classmates and I were teamed up at various stations: appetizers, entrees, and desserts. The instructor called out tickets, and we had to produce the plates to order. Many requests came as if in a restaurant, such as “sauce on the side,” or “no sauce.” As a class, our concept was a Southern, coastal, in-season menu and each team created four items. My team was responsible for appetizers, and we made the following:
• Autumn Bruschetta with Sage and Balsamic Reduction
• Shrimp and Corn Fritters with a Red Pepper Remoulade
• Petite Sweet Potato Biscuits with Maple Pecan Butter
• Pan-Seared Crab Cakes with Cream Corn Saffron Sauce
Though my crab cakes turned out a little salty, all the dishes were cohesive in their presentation, and the exercise was very educational. I saw in action how important it is to have an organized station, how each vessel has a function, such as the shape of a bowl and how it is not only visually appealing but serves the purpose of keeping temperature. With the commotion and pace of the kitchen, remembering the orders as they were called out and keeping everything straight, was the hardest part.
One of our most popular dishes was the Autumn Bruschetta. It’s an easy and delicious appetizer to serve before dinner or to take along to a get together. The sweet, nutty flavors of butternut squash and tart Granny Smith apples are Some Kinda Good alongside balsamic vinegar and ricotta cheese with sage. You can make your own balsamic reduction, or purchase a bottled variety to save time, although making your own doesn’t take long at all. Simply bring 2 cups of balsamic vinegar and a half cup of sugar to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, until the mixture has thickened and reduced by half (be sure to stir occasionally).
I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as this time of year.
Rebekah Faulk Lingenfelser is a private chef and the author of the best-selling memoir “Some Kinda Good.” Featured in Forbes, on Food Network and ABC, she writes about Southern, coastal cuisine, locally sourced and in season. Connect with her on social media by liking Some Kinda Good on Facebook, or follow @SKGFoodBlog on Instagram and Twitter.
• 1 French Baguette, sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds
• 3 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
• 3 Granny Smith Apples, peeled and diced
• ½ cup Butternut Squash, diced
• 1 tsp Cinnamon
• 1 tsp All Spice
• 1 tsp Cloves
• 1 cup Ricotta Cheese
• 4 Tablespoons Fresh Sage, minced, plus small leaves for frying
• Balsamic Vinegar Reduction
• ¼ cup Pecans, chopped
• Salt and Pepper to taste
• 1 cup Vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a baking sheet, drizzle baguette slices with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toast the slices in the oven for 5 - 6 minutes until lightly golden brown. Meanwhile, toss the butternut squash and apples in a medium bowl with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and add cinnamon, all spice, and cloves. Season with salt and pepper and toss until well combined. Spread the squash mixture on a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes, until the squash and apples are softened. In a small dry skillet over medium heat, toast the pecans for about 3 minutes, until they are fragrant.
Combine the sage and ricotta together, and season with salt and pepper. Once baguette slices have cooled slightly, top the slices with about a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture, followed by the squash mixture, and sprinkle with toasted pecans. In a small frying pan, over medium high, heat the vegetable oil. Fry the small sage leaves for about 30 seconds, until they are bright green. Add salt immediately and toss. Top the baguette slices with a single fried leaf, as garnish.