THE APPETIZER – No scraps here

By Eleni Upah

Even though the fall harvest several months away, it’s never too early to start talking about one of Iowa’s most delicious and versatile crops: squash. The Iowa climate is ideal for growing squash, which is perfect for restaurants like Alba that strive to use local ingredients in their meals.

One of Iowa’s lesser-known specialty crops is squash, which comes in several varieties.

One of Iowa’s lesser-known specialty crops is squash, which comes in several varieties.

“The reason we like working with farmers is they have a little bit more flavorful squash,” said Joe Tripp, the head chef at Alba in downtown Des Moines. “Sometimes they’ll come to us and say, ‘I’ve got a bunch of squash that I can’t sell.’ It’s just not as attractive to a customer, but we can take it and make something delicious with it.”

And they don’t waste any part of it. Tripp explained that they try to use every usable part of the squash that they can — and it all starts with the stock.

There are a variety of recipes for squash soup, but to get the most flavor, Alba creates a squash stock rather than a water-based or chicken stock. Using all the trimmings, peelings, seeds and juice, Tripp simmers it with aromatics of water to create a more intense flavor.

With so many different species of squash, the soup isn’t restricted to any one kind. Chefs will use several different types — including delicata, butternut and blue hubbards — and even a combination.

Squash soup might intimidate some cooks at first, but Tripp says it’s actually a pretty simple concoction.

“We took a little bit of onion, as well as some apples, cooked it down with a little garlic and then added our squash to that, covered it with squash stock and then added a little bit of greens,” he said. “Then you simmer that 20 minutes with a good amount of salt, then you blend it, and that’s it.”

The flavor of squash is very sweet with a slight nuttiness to it. They can be roasted ahead of time to bring out that nutty flavor in the soup. Depending on the flavor you’d like to achieve and the plants available.

“During the prime season, we try to focus on local ingredients, and so we’ll work with farmers,” Tripp said. “We do have an excellent crop of squash here, and our fall climate is perfect for squash.” RELISH

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Categories: The Appetizer

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