|You can see Pan Seared Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and the dessert, Yulan, in the background.|
I love squash, and of all the squash, I love kabocha the most. It is a pleasing, radially symmetric green thing of beauty. Kabocha is a Japanese pumpkin, and if you're living in Japan during the holidays, you can use it to make the best pumpkin pie. Ever. If you're stateside, these days it is relatively easy to find in Farmer's Markets, health food stores, and even some of the larger chain grocery stores. Here in Texas, I've found it at HEB exactly once.
To pick out a good kabocha, you need to keep a key fact in mind. Just like sweet potatoes, kabocha needs to be cured to bring out its best flavor. If your kabocha is freshly harvested, the texture and flavor will be substandard. Therefore, you want to pick a squash with dull skin and a very dry stem. Also, you should pick an evenly formed squash. Misshapen squash is usually caused by uneven watering, and nobody wants that.
Kabocha skin is thin and nice to eat, unlike that of my second favorite squash, the Delicata. The only reason
I can think of to remove the skin when you eat Kabocha is if you don't want the green pigmentation in your dish. If you steam, bake, or stew Kabocha, it provides a lovely contrast with the pumpkin's orange flesh. The first way I ever ate Kabocha was as tempura. I don't make fried food at home, other than krupuk, so one of the healthier ways I usually prepare Kabocha is nimono (煮物), which is slightly sweetened soy sauce and sake flavored vegetables stewed in dashi (出汁, だし).
I've been interested in finding other ways to use the delightfully creamy, yet flaky, and sweet pumpkin, so I decided to try to make some risotto with it. Naturally, I hadn't come up with the idea first, and my recipe is based on this one that I found at the Amateur Gourmet site. It is über delicious.
A friendly reminder: Always completely read the instructions before beginning any recipe--including this one. If you're careful to get the timing right you can significantly reduce the time it takes to make this recipe in particular.
- Chop the onions and start caramelizing them. Do it now! Cutting the squash will take a while, but not nearly as long as properly caramelizing your onions. In a large non-stick pan, add a bit of oil and the onions. Cook on low as long as you can--30 minutes at the absolute minimum. They will turn a deep golden color and smell like oniony heaven. Caramelized onions are the gold of Western cooking.
- Halve and de-seed the squash, then cut into crescents. Peel the crescents, then cut into 1cm wide pieces. For the love of your fingers, use the sharpest knife you have. Sharpen it right before you cut the squash if you can! Blood isn't without nutrition, but we're going for a nice light color with this risotto, and cutting open your hand will ruin it.
- Add the water and stock to a pot and bring it to a boil. Use the best chicken stock you can get. I make my own double strength stock with a pressure cooker and can it, but I suppose you can buy yours. It won't taste as good, though.
- Simultaneously, in a covered iron skillet, steam the kabocha on low for a few minutes. Then, turn up the heat and lightly sear the pieces. Remove the pan from the heat before the kabocha is done. It will continue cooking because of the iron skillet's high thermal capacitance.
- Add the rice to the onions and cook until it is slightly translucent, then add the marsala. Once it is absorbed, add the stock one ladle at a time, gently stirring and allowing it to absorb before each subsequent addition. Adding the liquids slowly will prevent you from making watery risotto. You don't want it to be too thick, but it is better for it to be too thick than for it to be too watery.
- Your risotto is nearly done. Add the sage, toasted pine nuts, cheese, and stir to combine. Plate, and garnish with more sage and pine nuts. Lovely!
I served the kabocha risotto with pan seared brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts. So delicious!