kabocha

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.

kabocha pumpkin gnocchi with walnut pesto with a side of mache salad

kabocha pumpkin gnocchi with walnut pesto with a side of mache salad

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.

vibrant orange interior of kabocha pumpkin

vibrant orange interior of kabocha pumpkin

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
Pinch nutmeg
Kosher salt
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

steaming kabocha and potatoes

steaming kabocha and potatoes

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.

shaping the gnocchi

shaping the gnocchi

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.

Cheesecake challenge: The glamorous Heavenly from donuts to delirium and we at weirdcombos want to invite any interested food blogging folk to join us in a cheesecake cooking challenge. All you have to do is contact us for the basic recipe, come up with a creative version of your own, and publish it with links to all the other participants for the challenge on Monday August 8, 2011. This was incredibly fun when we did the chocolate truffle challenge in May and the tagliatelle challenge in March. So get your thinking caps on and your sweet… teeth(?) ready for some delicious fun in August!

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kabocha interior: remove seeds and stringy bits

kabocha interior: remove seeds and stringy bits

I absolutely love pumpkins, gourds and squashes of all types. In fact when we were thinking of a name for our site we thought about calling it cucurbita, which is the scientific name for this family of plants. Among all Winter squashes, kabocha pumpkin is my absolute favorite. It has a buttery and nutty flavor with a creamy texture and it’s naturally sweet. I ate a lot of these when I lived in Brazil but I didn’t see much of them in New York. In California they’re available all year round so you can enjoy them anytime. Not to be harsh, because they’re good too, but I like kabocha better than butternut squash. It just has more flavor. You should try it sometime.

Kabochas are round, perhaps shiny and dark green with whitish or yellowish streaks on the outer rind. They have a bumpy tough skin with bright orange-ish-yellowish flesh, like American pumpkins.

beautiful kabocha exterior

beautiful kabocha exterior

I prefer pumpkins and squash in savory dishes rather than in sweet, like’s popular here. In Brazil we never make pumpkin pies though we often cook them with salt and chile peppers. I should try making a pie out of kabocha next time I visit my relatives, just to see what they would think of it.

When I was a teen I briefly took Japanese classes. It was fun to hear the sound of western words adapted to the Japanese language. As I recall for instance, the English expression, “traveler’s check” becomes something like toraberazu checku in Japanese. The famous Japanese expression of thanks, arigato, derives from the Portuguese word with the same meaning, “obrigado.” There are others.

My sensei (teacher) would sometimes end the class by offering us some cold soba noodle soup along with wedges of steamed cooled kabocha rinds. The snack was served at room temperature which was very refreshing in the tropics. What he did not tell us was that “kabocha” itself is another word borrowed by the Japanese from the Portuguese! Perhaps he did not know? After all the Portuguese had visited them about 5 centuries ago, so much has passed since then, right?

Japanese kabocha pumpkin like all other squashes are from the new world; from Meso- America, actually, which is the chunk of land south of Mexico and north of South America. Presumably kabocha was taken to Asia by the Portuguese. Ah, those brave Portuguese! Just to imagine them on those fragile caravels crossing the oceans makes me sea-sick already!

cutting kabocha

cutting kabocha

First kabocha traveled to Cambodia and then from there to Japan. The word for pumpkin or squash in Portuguese is abóbora. By the time this gourd was introduced to Japan, the name had already changed a bit. In Cambodia, it was called Cambodia Abóbora.The Japanese simplified this long-ish name Kabocha. This was based upon the sound of the word for this exotically foreign vegetable. Eventually, it migrated back to the Americas but the Japanese name stuck: kabocha.

There tons of things you can make from kabocha. Today I made it in risotto. I hope that you like it.

Japanese Kabocha Pumpkin Risotto

Ingredients:

1 & 1/3 cup arborio rice
1 & 2/3 cup kabocha, peeled with inner seeds and strings removed, cut into medium sized cubes
1/3 cup fresh onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated cheese
¾ cup dry white wine
5 to 6 cup vegetable broth or water
1/3 cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
2 tsp Spanish capers in brine
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper

How to:

Using a deep pan sauté onion for a few minutes till translucent. Add garlic and sauté for another minute or so. Add kabocha and sauté for few more minutes. Add white wine and cook pumpkin continuously stirring for 3-4 minutes. Add Arborio rice and half of the remaining water or vegetable broth. Reduce temperature to medium to have a brisk simmer. Keep stirring. Add more broth when necessary. Stir it up! The process will take about 20 minutes and the rice will be a little soupy. It is done when rice reaches the al dente consistency, so you’ve got to test it towards the end for doneness. Add salt to taste. Remove from heat then add cheese, parsley, capers, black pepper. Let it rest for about 5 minutes and voilá!

finished squash risotto

finished squash risotto

The finished risotto has a vibrant color and the flavors are divine! Serve with white wine. We had it with this cheap and delicious pinot grigio frizzante from Italia bought at our local TJ’s store! Cheers.

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