It wasn’t until the chef Jake Schmidt moved to the South in 2011 to work in the kitchen at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville that he first tried candy roaster squash. “I immediately thought: Why have I been messing around with butternut squash my whole life?!” he says. “Candy roaster squash is softer and sweeter than butternut, and you can do all the same things with it.” Now the executive chef at the Swag, a luxury mountain retreat in Waynesville, North Carolina, Schmidt has devised a Thanksgiving side dish that lets the sweet squash shine.
“I like using unique ingredients somebody wouldn’t necessarily pair together, or items that people may be unfamiliar with,” Schmidt says. “I’ve been playing around with persimmons for a few years now. So many people have never tasted persimmons, but we have them at our local Ingles.” Persimmons often give cooks pause since they ripen quickly, going from inedible and hard to overripe in as little as a day. “But this is a great recipe because you can use them when they’re really hard, since roasting them like this softens and sweetens them up,” Schmidt says.
Schmidt serves the roasted squash and persimmons on a bed of local red Russian kale, topped with a creamy vinaigrette. “For the vinaigrette, be sure to add water at the end to change the texture. You’ll end up adding a lot more than you think you’ll need,” Schmidt advises. “There’s something about the reaction between the almonds and the persimmon vinegar that makes it so white and creamy. It looks like the whitest mayonnaise you’ve ever seen.”