Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pumpkin, Sweet Potato, or Roast Kabocha Pie?


Our organic food service has lately been including in their boxes many varieties of root vegetables—which only makes sense if they are still trying to provide fairly local flavors in the Chicago area in early winter.  With the abundance of sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and squashes which we couldn’t entirely consume in our meals, we’ve had to resort to baking pies for dessert!  I know, it’s a rough life.

The most recent attempt was a revelation.  For over a week, a large, dark green, roughly textured exterior of a kabocha squash (a Japanese variety) had been imploring me to do something with it.  It was simply too big—and unevenly corrugated—to cut or peel easily, so I kept on ignoring it, hoping that it would simply go away.  While it was certainly not our first kabocha, it did appear to be the least appealing and most unwieldy of its variety.  I know that kabochas tend to run 2-3 pounds, but I’m certain this one was more like 4-5 pounds heavy.  (I wish I had weighed it!)  So I roasted the whole thing.  I often roast whole pumpkins and squashes when fearful that a slip of a knife might make me ever regret having picked up cooking.  

To Roast and Puree Your Squash:

Preheat the oven to 400, prick a series of tiny holes all around the squash with a sharp paring knife, put it on a cookie sheet (to catch the oozing juices), and bake it for about an hour.  It could take shorter or longer—depending on the size and texture of your squash—so be prepared to start checking after 45 minutes, especially once you start smelling something that resembles roast sweet potatoes.  You might see that juices have started to form brownish jelly on the bottom of the cookie sheet.  Poke the squash to see if it gives a bit.  Of course, if it looks like it’s about to collapse, get it out of the oven.  It’s ready.  Don’t worry about its appearance as it roasts since this is not an exact science, and roasting vegetables—especially ones with hard skins—is a pretty forgiving process.

Let the squash cool before handling it!  Then, make a vertical cut along the stem line so that you have two halves with seeds in the middle.  Take a spoon and just scoop up and discard the seeds and fiber inside, leaving just the cooked flesh.  Then scoop the flesh away from the skin and place in a food processor.  Repeat with the other half. 

The cooked flesh of the kabocha should resemble something like that of sweet potato—fairly firm and even, not as watery as a butternut squash or a pie pumpkin.  Puree in your food processor until the flesh is of spreadable consistency—like cake frosting or softened cream cheese.  You might be tempted to skip the pureeing process since the flesh will be nicely textured, but it never hurts to have the beautifully creamy consistency that a food processor will yield.


Above, you can see a picture of pumpkin puree.  Pretty and bright amber color, and fairly moist.  Below, you can see a picture of kabocha squash puree.  Still an amber color, but creamier, firmer, more solid in consistency—more resembling whipped sweet potato.  In fact, if you were to taste both the pumpkin and the kabocha puree, you’d see that the kabocha tastes much more like roast sweet potato—sweeter, more notes of molasses, on its own before adding any spices.  And, yes, you can just eat the puree on its own.  It’s that good.


To Bake the Pie:

Nancy Silverton’s Pumpkin Pie recipe that I modified for an earlier post actually will work quite well here.  Since her original recipe used a combination of pumpkin and sweet potato puree, it’s already closer to the texture and taste of a kabocha, which is often described as having a taste profile resembling both.  The fact that she uses less spices also seems appropriate for a kabocha pie since it, like the sweet potato, already has more sweetness and molasses going for it than the pumpkin pie.


Some changes I might suggest after having made the Roast Kabocha Pie which you can apply to any other favorite pumpkin recipe:

*With the firmer consistency of the kabocha puree, you can just skip the step of pushing the puree-and-butter mixture through the sieve.  Simply melt butter, then add vanilla extract or scrape just the vanilla bean seeds into the butter, let cook another 2-3 minutes, and then mix the melted butter-vanilla mixture with the puree before adding the liquids and the spices.

*Because the kabocha puree is thicker and firmer than the pumpkin puree, I would suggest increasing the heavy cream from ½ cup to 2/3 cup.

*Because the roast kabocha is already sweeter than pumpkin puree, I might even decrease the brown sugar by 1-2 tablespoons, depending on your taste preferences.

As the pie bakes, you might see that it resembles a rising cake more than the pumpkin pie usually does.  Its consistency, once it cools, is also less custard-like and more bread-pudding-like.  I like pumpkin pie fairly cool, but I enjoyed the kabocha pie—as I would also like a sweet potato pie—just slightly warm.  The molasses flavor seems to come through best that way.


Tip: If you think the idea of eating a squash pie will not appeal to others, you can simply call it a sweet potato pie.  No one will know the difference. 




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