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SHREWSBURY: SLOW FOOD FOR WINTER

 casey-pesce-djeet-10Casey Pesce, in the d’jeet? kitchen, tells PieHole that winter is a time to slow things down a bit. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)

By JIM WILLIS

PieHole reveres the home cook. We know that the most important food is the food you eat everyday, not the occasional expensive plate of vertical food approved by a Michelin Guide.

And so it goes with home cooking in December that we sit here and look at our barren garden, the summer’s herbs buried under a blanket of white, and try to conjure an answer to that daily question: “What’s good to eat?”

PieHole checked in at d’jeet? in Shrewsbury’s Grove shopping center to see if with chef/owner Casey Pesce had any inspiration to offer home cooks around the Green.

“That’s what I love,” says Pesce. “I love eating something that someone has made at home.”

“It’s so easy in the summer to decide what you want to eat,” he says. “Stuff is so flavorful you can eat it raw, you can steam it, grill it.”

But Pesce doesn’t see barren garden beds as a necessarily bad thing for winter cooking.

“In winter, you have more time. Everything slows down, and you can make things that take more time,” he says. “Winter is when you’re really diving deep into what you’re making, and putting a lot into it. It’s nice, it’s comforting, it’s special food.”

Pesce rattles off a laundry list of ingredients that he likes to use in the winter time.

“There are squashes that are amazing. And the hardy greens. You’ve got acorn squash, butternut, rutabaga, parsnips, spaghetti squash,” says Pesce.  “It’s colorful food.”

Now, while gardens around the Green are longer throwing off squashes, PieHole heeded the advice we picked up at the Farmer’s Market this year about storing vegetables and stocked up on a bunch of squash. Pesce says cooking at home with spaghetti squash is as simple as treating it like pasta.

“Just scrape it out and serve it with a pomodoro sauce,” he says.

Another alternative Pesce suggests is to try a spaghetti squash latke. “Roast the squash so it’s nice and dry, fork it out and add some egg and seasoning, and pan fry it,” says Pesce.

A suggestion that was new to us is making fritters out of squash. Pesce suggests making a basic fritter batter and including some parmesan, basil, parsley and lemon zest, and then adding the mashed squash. “Fry them and you get these nice fritters,” says Pesce.

At d’jeet?, Pesce seeks inspiration for the winter menu by turning to his family memories.

“I’m thinking cheese and crackers – like, old school. My grandmother always had a cheese spread, and she liked drinking a beer at the end of the night, so I was thinking about cheese and crackers, and it brings back that memory,” says Pesce.

He’s been working with a raw, smoked Vermont cheddar cheese and a stout from the local Carton Brewery.

“I took the cheese and melted it with some heavy cream. I pour it into a glass cup and it becomes spreadable.” Pesce then makes a jelly by cooking down a Carton Milk Stout and puts a thin layer of that over the cheese in the glass.

“We’re going to try to do that with a rye bread cracker,” he says.

For Pesce, who had just picked the last of the Grove’s garden’s kale when we sat down with him, inspiration for winter cooking is everywhere. PieHole will continue to check in with area chefs this winter to see what suggestions they have for home cooks.

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank business owner happier than to hear "I saw your ad on Red Bank Green!"
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