Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kabocha squash and bok choy

We're coming up on the winter squash season. Kabocha ("Japanese pumpkin," according to some sources) is my favorite sweet, winter squash. I use it for gnocchi di zucca but also just simply roast it. It comes in many sizes but always looks about the same--kind of a ball shape that has been squished slightly top and bottom. It's a pretty, deep-green color, sometimes with yellow or orangey stripes. I have found it ranging from baseball sized to football sized, so you can see there's quite a bit of variation there. It's my favorite because it is incredibly sweet and not at all watery. The flesh is a deep orange color, which is usually a good indication that the vegetable in question is good for you--kabocha is high in vitamins A & C, as well as a great source of potassium, omega 3, beta carotene...the list goes on. It has an affinity for butter, rosemary, sage, curry, spicy things and would be great in a soup. And if that all wasn't enough, it is incredibly easy to make--I found a big one at the market the other day and just roasted it:

I used my cleaver to cut up my large kabocha, but you can probably just use a large, sharp knife if you don't have one. Hacked it in half, then each half into 3 pieces to make 6 more or less even, half-moon slices of squash (we had not just Jeremy and Melanie over, but also Josh and Paul so it was a full house for dinner). Scrape out the seeds from the center of each squash slice and discard (although, I guess you can roast them like pumpkin seeds and they are delicious, so maybe you should try doing that and tell me how it goes). Put the pieces cut side down in a large baking dish. Added about 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the dish--this is to prevent burning as the sugars caramelize while the squash roasts. I was already roasting a chicken in the oven at the time so I just chucked the squash in to go along with it--it took a little less than 1 hour at 350 degrees, and this was quite a large squash. After 40 minutes into the cooking, I flipped over the pieces so the cut sides were faced up and basted them with the chicken fat & juices that were collected in the bottom of my chicken roasting pan. If you aren't roasting a chicken, just dab some butter or something on top. At this point I also added a teensy sprinkle of sugar and ground lots of salt and pepper liberally over the top. They're done when they're totally soft and delicious looking. After hauling them out of the oven and feel free to add more butter if you like.

In addition to the chicken and squash we had the large grain couscous that I usually make alongside chicken--I know I've talked about it here before so I won't get into it. But it is really delicious. I also sauteed baby bok choy for some healthy green vegetables to complement the squash. Took about 6 tiny heads of baby bok choy and sliced off the ends so they fell apart into separate leaves. Washed them really really well and set aside. In a frying pan, heated 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes. When it was hot, added all the bok choy and moved it around until the hot oil and seasonings have gotten on all the leaves. This takes a second, but don't worry. It looks at first as if the bok choy will overflow your pan but actually it will cook down to fit very quickly as long as you keep it moving over the heat. Sometimes I use tongs to move things around at first. It is done when it is bright green in color and wilted down but still a bit crisp in the white stems. Doesn't take more than 4-5 minutes. If you can't find baby bok choy just get a head of the big stuff and cut it up into little pieces. After it is all done, sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds and serve right away while hot.

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