Kabocha is one of my favorite types of pumpkin. It has a nutty, sweet flavor with an intense, beautiful yellow color. It is perfect served as a side dish. The classic Brazilian way to prepare it is one of the simplest: sautéed with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a bit of water, until tender. We enjoy kabocha that way at home very often. I’ve made it in risotto, too, which is another fabulous savory pumpkin dish.
Americans don’t seem to be very in-the-know about kabocha. I wonder if that’s because the exterior is so gnarled and dark green to brown? It is a bit ugly, really. Kabocha isn’t anything like those cheery but flavorless orange monsters that make wonderful jack-o-lanterns but nothing else. Acorn and butternut squash are the cooking favorites here as far as I can tell, and I’ve no complaints about them, but to me, kabocha remains the unsung queen of the pumpkin patch.
I saw a gorgeous recipe for pumpkin gnocchi in this book, The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein. Normally, I like gnocchi with loads of cheese, but this recipe challenged all that with its no-animal-products stance. A complete vegan dish, how exciting… It turned out really good, despite being healthy. And since it was a bit messy to make, we had a lot of fun both in the kitchen and at table.
kabocha pumpkin gnocchi with walnut pesto
For the gnocchi:
4 small russet potatoes, ~ 1¼ lbs, peeled and halved
1 lb kabocha pumpkin, seeds and stringy parts removed; cut into wedges
1 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2+ cups of flour
For the walnut pesto:
¾ cup walnuts
1½ cups Italian parsley
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp sundried tomato packed in oil, drained
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Steam potato and kabocha until fully cooked and tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a colander and let them cool down slightly.
Meanwhile place pesto ingredients in the food processor and whiz until turned into a smooth thick paste. Transfer to a small bowl and drizzle with a little olive oil. Set aside.
Pre heat oven to 350F.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add a teaspoon of olive oil.
Remove kabocha rinds and discard. Place steamed pumpkin and potatoes in a large bowl. Add olive oil, nutmeg, salt then mash with a fork until relatively smooth and combined. Add flour and mix to incorporate. Place dough on a floured surface and knead it for about 4 minutes. Add more flour if too sticky.
Shape the dough into a rectangle. Using a knife, cut it into 6 segments. Cut each segment in half. With floured hands and surfaces, roll each piece into about a ¾ inch-thick tube. Cut each tube in ½ inch wide pillows. Using your thumb and the tines of a fork, gently press each little pillow to flatten them a bit while at the same time making indentations in one side.
Cook in batches to prevent sticking. To cook, add a batch of fresh gnocchi to the boiling water. Wait for them to rise to the surface. Turn temperature to medium and cook for 4-5 minutes. Don’t be tempted to remove the gnocchi earlier, it will taste bad! Using a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to a colander. Let drain for a minute or so. Meanwhile, bring water back to a full boil and repeat process with remaining batches. Reserve 2+ cups of cooking water.
Add one tablespoon olive oil to a large glass baking dish. Spread gnocchi in a single layer in the dish (use a second baking dish if needed). Add enough reserved water to walnut pesto to thin it into a somewhat runny sauce. Pour over gnocchi and bake for about 12 minutes to warm through.
We served this with a simple mache salad in vinaigrette. It was a feast! And it is so healthy that you won’t feel a bit of remorse having two slices of cheesecake.