Kabocha, You Betcha
No winking or nodding -- this website will mention Alaska only in the context of baked -- but don'tcha have to like saying a word like "kabocha?" And notice how my new best winter squash friend seems completely self-possessed and unconcerned about looks. I first ate kabocha on my birthday this year at the marvelous Holly Hill Inn in Midway, Kentucky, a favorite place to go any day of the year. Chef Ouita Michel invented a kabocha salad that included roasted squash crescents, country ham, reduced cider or something even more complex, incredibly crunch fat almonds, and more. I have wanted Kabocha every day since.
Eugene ven der Pijil's photo here shows Buttercup Kabocha, the kind I have discovered I like the very best -- so far. Elmwood Stock Farm has had a bountiful supply of kabochas all fall. The latest newsletter from the Lexington Farmers Market promises more Elmwood (certified organic) kabocha this Saturday -- November 1!
After I hack my way into the hard kabocha body and dig out the seeds and pith, I slice the flesh into those happy crescents and lay them on a heavy baking sheet. Sometimes I put a little butter or oil on the sheet first. I sprinkle with some version of sweet spices -- cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, coriander, cardamom, and sometimes a little cayenne. I roast the crescents in the oven uncovered at whatever temperature I am using for other foods -- usually between 325 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Roasting time depends on temp and size and so on, but let's say 40 minutes is a good guess for most kabocha crescents. Kabocha has its own nice, slow timetable.
While the squash roasts and gets lightly carmelized from its own natural sugars where it touches the pan, I separate out the pith and put it in a saucepan with some water to cook for a while. The resulting orange-colored water works well as a broth to cook rice, I've learned. (Rice that has been lightly "toasted" with some sauteed onions in olive oil and then has this broth added -- beautiful.)
Here's a fine-sounding recipe for a savory version of this fantastic squash, from Perfect Entertaining.
I have tried to figure out how to describe the appeal of kabocha's texture. Wikipedia's description includes its own way of describing the texture:
Today many of the kabocha in the market are of the type called Kuri kabocha, which was created based on Seiyo kabocha (buttercup squash). It's popular for its strong yet sweet flavor and moist, fluffy texture, which is like chestnuts. It's found in the market under such brand names as Miyako, Ebisu, Kurokawa, Akazukin, etc.
Moist, fluffy, somehow creamy and dry at the same time - I betcha you'll like kabocha.
Now, darn it, if I can just find a way to use all those big, meaty seeds....