Of all the hypotheticals I’ve entertained in the daydream hours of spring, there’s one I return to with special frequency. If I had my own restaurant kitchen, what would be on my opening night playlist?
To say music sets the tone for an eating experience may be an understatement, but in many dining rooms the soundtrack goes woefully ignored. Neutral and instrumental seems to be the direction of choice, followed closely by a Pandora-style lineup of “Greatest Coffee Shop Hits: 80s, 90s and Today.” When a place does it right, though, the effect can be magical. Full disclosure: I loved The Little Owl on Bedford as much for their playlists as for their meatball sliders, and secretly bookmarked their website just for the pleasure of streaming Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. (Do it! Their 3-song loop brings back many happy memories.)
At Love Apple Farms we frequently blasted music out over the garden terraces. Our garden manager had a proclivity for Phish and The Dead, but the best days were when a laptop in the tool shed was plugged into the speakers with an open playlist. “It’s not about choosing a good song, it’s about finding the song that captures your mood right now,” Ross told me earnestly one afternoon, and I took the wisdom to heart. My choices were generally scattershot, often verging on embarrassing (Sting, anyone? No, not the Police… “Desert Rose”). Fortunately my cohorts had better musical taste. When I think of the farm on late-summer afternoons I think of overripe cherry tomatoes, the clouds parting over Monterey Bay, and Ross sprinting to the laptop to play The Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.”
Recently I’ve realized the same wisdom can be applied to cooking. It’s not about a perfect meal every night, but rather putting together what feels right. Sometimes I genuinely crave spaghetti with grated cheese; many afternoons I crunch on slices of raw red cabbage; other weekends I want a three-course Moroccan feast, the spices satisfying some unknown culinary desire. Some nights I need the pleasant ache of Madeleine Peyroux’s “I’m All Right” and Mayer Hawthorne’s “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out”; other nights I slide around the kitchen to Lyle Lovett’s “Don’t Touch My Hat.” There’s a lot to be said for being true to the moment—in music and in food.
Butternut Squash Crumble with Goat Cheese and Sage
I fell in love with this savory crumble the moment I saw it on La Tartine Gourmand, and though it took me awhile to get around to making it, it didn’t disappoint. My adaptation uses goat cheese instead of tomato to make the filling smooth and creamy, and I also found that pre-roasting the butternut squash makes for a delicious, caramelized treat.
2 medium butternut squash
salt & pepper
1 large onion
handful fresh sage leaves
1 small round goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the butternuts and cut them into small chunks; toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and arrange on a baking tray. Roast in the oven until soft and browned, about half an hour.
While the butternut is cooking, slice the onion and saute in olive oil in a medium saucepan. Roughly chop the fresh sage and add to the pan with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is translucent, then set aside to cool.
Mix the flour, butter and parmesan cheese in a bowl, rubbing the butter into the flour with your fingers until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Set aside.
Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees. Toss the warm roasted butternut with the onion mixture and the crumbled goat cheese. Spread evenly in a buttered baking dish and top with the crumble mixture. Bake until the topping is golden, about 25-30 minutes, and enjoy!