Halloween has always been one of Tina Fineza’s favourite holidays. When the chef and co-owner of Service Excellence Hospitality Consultants was growing up in the Philippines, she looked forward to dressing up and going trick-or-treating each year.
“I’d have my Halloween costume made the night before with the help of everybody in my family,” Fineza tells the Georgia Straight during an interview at Chinatown’s East of Main café.
When she was a child in Manila, Fineza’s passion for food started at home. She recalls waking up before sunrise to accompany her mother to local markets and then going for dim sum with her family.
“My father’s half Spanish and my mother’s Filipina. Food was integral,” she says. “The influences in Manila are Chinese, Malay, Japanese, Spanish, and Filipino, so we cooked a lot.”
Fineza moved to Vancouver nearly 20 years ago as a student, intending to become a filmmaker. When she arrived, however, the Dubrulle culinary school caught her attention.
“I went and got a brochure and never looked back,” she says with a laugh.
Even before graduation, Fineza landed her first cooking job, at the now-closed Lumière restaurant. She stayed there for several years, learning from chef Rob Feenie before moving on to Diva at the Met, Bin 942, and the Flying Tiger. In 2008, she launched a restaurant consulting business with front-of-house expert Annette Rawlinson. Together, they help restaurants, including East of Main and the new Boca sandwich shop, create or change menu items and train staff.
“The fun part is opening up a restaurant. I love that part,” Fineza says. “But I do miss the [kitchen production] line. I miss the high of being on the line and it’s 5 o’clock, and you’re waiting for your first orders to come in.”
Not spending every night in a restaurant, however, means having more time to cook at home. Fineza says that her Mount Pleasant garden often dictates what she eats. When she celebrates Halloween with family and friends this year, she’ll make a dish that incorporates seasonal greens—Brussels sprouts, kale, and Swiss chard.
“Halloween is really about squash for me, but there needs to be something ghoulish, something funny for Halloween,” Fineza says, explaining that she adds faces made with pear balls and cranberries to her dish. “It looks like aliens are looking out at you from the squash.”
While she plans to drink a festive bloody mary or red sangria cocktail on October 31, Fineza recommends pairing this dish, which includes blue cheese and pancetta, with a glass of Beaujolais.
Tina Fineza's spooky pears and fall harvest squash
1 Honeyboat Delicata squash, about 6 to 8 inches long
1 Tbsp (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 Bosc pear, cored and cut in half
1 cup (250 mL) peeled chestnuts
¼ cup (60 mL) dried cherries or dried cranberries
4 slices pancetta, about 40 g, cut into half-inch strips
¼ cup (60 mL) shallots, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
6 kale leaves, ribs removed, chopped
6 rainbow Swiss chard leaves, ribs removed, chopped
6 sage leaves, roughly chopped
12 Brussels sprouts
Juice of ½ lemon
½ cup (125 mL) blue cheese
Pineapple sage, sorrel, and salad burnetto garnish
- Preheat oven to 350 ° F (180 ° C).
- Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Using a sharp knife, roughly score the flesh, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Wrap each squash half in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet or roasting pan on middle rack of oven. Roast for 30 minutes.
- Using a melon baller, scoop 6 to 8 pear balls. Place the pear balls and chestnuts on a baking sheet and roast on middle rack of oven for 2 to 3 minutes after squash is done. Remove pears and chestnuts from oven and let cool.
- Once the pear balls are cool to touch, use a paring knife to carve out two small indentations in each ball for the “eyes” and stuff with small pieces of dried fruit. Set aside.
- Core the Brussels sprouts by cutting off the bottoms and removing a triangular wedge from the base of each sprout with a paring knife. Thinly slice leaves.
- In a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, cook the pancetta for 3 minutes or until crispy. Remove the pancetta and set aside, leaving fat in the pan.
- To the same pan, add the shallots and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add kale and Swiss chard and cook for 3 minutes or until wilted, then add sage and Brussels sprouts. Squeeze lemon juice over top, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook for 5 more minutes, or until all greens are wilted.
- Add pancetta, roasted chestnuts, and remaining dried fruit to the pan and toss together. Remove pan from heat, crumble blue cheese over top, and mix well.
- To serve, fill each squash half with pancetta-and-vegetable mixture. Place spooky pears on top with eyes peeking out, and garnish with edible leaves of your choice.
Yield: 2 servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.