Preparing produce: Ideal autumn meals

As the weather clearly indicates, autumn is upon the area, and families are starting to gather more frequently. Reuniting with family in the colder season can ultimately lead to warm, satisfying, home-cooked meals, and during a recent trip to Millville’s Good Earth Market, corporate chef Bill Scepansky of Four Seasons Produce Inc. presented a cooking demonstration, explaining the importance and versatility of produce in the kitchen, and the wonderful outcomes home cooks can create.

Good Earth Cooks: Corporate chef Bill Scepansky gives a demonstration at Good Earth Market on Saturday, Nov. 3.Coastal Point • RYAN SAXTON
Corporate chef Bill Scepansky gives a demonstration at Good Earth Market on Saturday, Nov. 3.

Four Seasons Produce, based in Ephrata, Pa., is a full-service produce distributor, and happens to be the main distributor for Good Earth Market. Scepansky has been the company’s corporate chef for five years, though he’s been in the food industry for 23 years, working at upscale hotels and restaurants. He is also the company’s seasonal chef, selecting top produce each month and informing others about popular recipes.

“I migrated into managed food service, which I thought was an interesting avenue that a lot of chefs were going to. I developed a good relationship with one of my vendors, and realized that the one thing that brings all good cuisine together is high-quality produce. It just seemed like a natural progression to go where the great products are, and produce provides just that,” he said.

Scepansky returned to Good Earth Market this fall after a demo there last year.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the customers in this area,” he said, “and the general degree of interests that they had. They really wanted to learn about cooking with organic vegetables. To me, that makes all the difference. I’d rather have 30 people in the audience who want to really, truly learn what you’re talking about versus 100 people who are just there to eat.”

He has traveled the East Coast, presenting thousands with irresistible cuisine and recommendations for staying healthy. “I try to get out for the customers as much as possible,” Scepansky said. From grocery stores and schools to restaurants and organic markets, Four Seasons attempts to spread the word about the importance of fresh produce to whomever they can.

“For me, it’s a great opportunity. It’s something different every day,” he said. “The world of produce is always changing. There’s a new wild item that comes along all the time, whether it’s golden kiwi, longan fruit or something original from southeast Asia.

“I feel very fortunate because I get to try these things first before a lot of the chefs we sell to, so we’re in a unique position. I’m not staring at the same four walls or the same menu every day, so I’m in a very unique position,” Scepansky added.

The demo was just another way for Four Seasons Produce to establish the cooperative partnership they strive for, and on Friday, Nov. 2, Scepansky prepared for the packed audience a butternut squash risotto with sautéed wild mushrooms.

“It gears towards the fall season, and it’s healthy,” he said. “I’m taking a dish that’s traditionally heavier — risotto — and showing an application where you can eliminate all of that cream and butter. You still get all the flavor and color, while lowering the overall fat content.”

“It’s so great to bring this talent here,” said Good Earth Market owner Sue Ryan. “These chefs have so much knowledge and they’re so willing to share it. They don’t charge us for coming, and it’s such a great outreach. It gets people in the store who wouldn’t normally come. It’s hard to walk into a natural food store and know what to do sometimes. It can be very intimidating to people.”

The turnout for each demo has been a huge success for Good Earth Market.

“Some people are at every demo we hold,” said Ryan. “They’re our loyal demo customers. Also, you get to see a lot of new faces, too, which is what you really want to have.”

Local restaurateur Matt Haley will return to Good Earth Market for a holiday cooking demo on Nov. 24, and a Grains 101 presentation will be held Dec. 8.

For more information about the Good Earth Market and demo schedules, available produce and other products, call (302) 537-7100. For information about Four Seasons Produce Inc., including recipes and tips, visit online.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms

3 T. olive oil

1 shallot, minced

1 C. Arborio rice

1/2 C. dry white wine

5 C. beef or chicken stock, at a simmer

1 C. butternut squash, cooked and pureed

1 T. heavy cream

1 T. butter, unsalted

1 C. parmesan cheese, freshly shredded

1 T. olive oil

3 C. shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 shallot, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 T. butter, unsalted

2 T. chives, minced

Kosher salt and white pepper, to taste

To make risotto:

In a wide, heavy-bottomed pan, over medium-low heat, warm oil and add shallots. Sweat shallots until translucent, approximately 5 min. Add rice and stir to coat each grain and continue to cook, toasting rice until it colors lightly. Look for the outside of each grain to become clear, revealing a white pearl within.

Raise heat to medium and add wine, carefully stirring to avoid burning. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the wine is almost completely absorbed. Add ? cup of the hot stock and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until rice has absorbed most of the liquid.

Repeat with the stock, adding ? cup increments, until all stock is used. Risotto is cooked when rice is just tender, having just a touch of al dente to the individual grains. This will take roughly 12 to 20 minutes.

Throughout the cooking and stirring of the rice, the stock will have combined with the starch given off from each grain, and a creamy sauce will have formed. After most of the last addition of stock is absorbed, just as the rice is finished, fold in the butternut puree and heat through.

Just before serving, add half of the Parmesan cheese, the butter, and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve immediately, in wide-rimmed bowls topped with remaining grated cheese and sautéed mushrooms.

For the sautéed wild mushrooms:

In a large sauté pan, over medium-high heat, add the second measure of oil and heat until it simmers. Add the mushrooms in a thin, even layer and leave them alone. (There should be no more than a few layers high of mushrooms in the pan at once. Otherwise, this should be done in a few batches. Too many mushrooms in the pan at once will not allow for good browning, as the steam from the cooking mushrooms will be trapped, which ill turn back to liquid and then you will end up stewing the mushrooms instead.)

Cook for one or two minutes, without disturbing, until the mushrooms begin to brown. Flip the mushrooms and continue to cook until nicely browned. Add the chopped garlic and shallots and toss well. Cook for one minute and add the butter, salt, pepper and chives. Toss again and gold warm until ready to serve.