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The Appetizer: Cafemantic's Butternut Squash Crostini

This quick seasonal crostini melds tender cubes of sweet caramelized squash, earthy roasted chestnut slices and rich, creamy ricotta on toasted bread. Cafemantic uses country bread from Haddam's Farm to Hearth, but any type of quality bread will suffice, says executive chef Jon Hudak.

Ricotta can be store-bought if you're short on time, but Hudak has also provided a recipe for Cafemantic's rendition, which uses local Farmer's Cow whole milk and heavy cream. (If you've ever tasted the Willimantic restaurant's version, you'll know it's worth the extra effort.)

>>2 tbsp butter

>>1 butternut squash neck, peeled and diced (reserve the seedy bottom for another recipe, i.e., soup)

>>1 fresh sage sprig

>> Salt

>>6 fresh chestnuts

>>1 tbsp vegetable oil

>>1 loaf of bread, sliced 1/2–inch thick

>>Olive oil as needed

>>One pint of ricotta (store-bought, or see recipe below)

>>1/4 cup chestnut honey, or high-quality local honey

>>1/2 cup light green/yellow celery leaves from inner stalks

Cook squash: Heat butter in sauté pan over medium heat until melted. Add diced squash and brown, stirring occasionally. Add sage to pan and continue to cook until tender and caramelized. Season with salt and reserve at room temperature.

Roast chestnuts: Heat oven to 450 degrees and score an "X" on the flat side of each nut. Toss with oil and place on sheet tray. Roast for 5 to 10 minutes until shells begin to curl. While nuts are still warm, peel away shells, slice chestnuts and reserve.

Build crostini: Brush sliced bread with olive oil. Toast bread on grill or in very hot oven until a slight crust forms. Spread some ricotta on each slice of bread and top with a pile of roasted squash, a few slices of chestnuts, a drizzle of honey and celery leaves.

RICOTTA

>>1 quart whole milk, pasteurized

>>1 cup heavy cream

>>Zest of one lemon

>>1 tbsp kosher salt

>>1/2 tbsp sugar

>>1/4 cup distilled white vinegar

Heat milk, cream, lemon zest, salt, and sugar in sauce pan until almost simmering (190-205 degrees F). Turn off heat and stir in vinegar. Let mixture rest off heat for 15 minutes. Strain through cheese cloth for about 15 minutes. Chill for several hours overnight. (Check consistency after fully cool. It should be easily spreadable. If cheese is too thick, adjust with heavy cream.) This serves about 8 to 12 people.

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