PRODUCE PICKS: PUMPKINS AND HARD SQUASH

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By Greg Dunne      

Photo, left: Roasted Rosemary Kabocha Squash                                    

October 20, 2015 (East County) Pumpkins and Hard Squash. October is here and it’s time to pick out a pumpkin to carve for Halloween. Butternut, Acorn, Spaghetti, Kabocha squashes are all fresh autumn crops and in full season. Now is the time to pick out a Butternut or Kabocha squash and serve it up for dinner. My favorite is the Kabocha squash, with deep orange flesh inside and rich full flavor. Some delicious recipes for pumpkins and squash are located at the bottom of this article.

Kabocha is an Asian squash grown here in the United States for some time. Other cultures commonly call it Japanese Pumpkin. It is a deep orange inside like the color of pumpkin. When choosing a Kabocha or other hard squash make sure they are firm and solid on the outside with no spongy sides - I like the ones slightly larger; they have a bit more flesh on the inside and are usually meatier and tastier. They have a very hard shell to cut, use a sharp knife and caution when cutting. You can always ask the produce clerk to cut it in half for you at the store.

Roundish, greenish, and streaky, it could easily be mistaken for a pumpkin dressed in a Halloween costume. This green marvel has all the makings of a great fall look, taste and feel to enjoy for this time of year. Kabocha squash is a staple of Japanese cuisine, though it is believed to have originated in Cambodia before being brought to Japan by European explorers. Its rich orange flesh is sweeter than butternut squash, and tastes like a cross between pumpkin and sweet potato.

Pumpkins seem to have more varieties today than ever before – the traditional orange pumpkins, white pumpkins, fairytale pumpkins, blue, mini, and tiger pumpkins, just to name a few. My favorite is the warty pumpkins, they just scream Halloween! Even if you don’t carve a jack-o-lantern for Halloween they make great fall décor and will usually last right through Thanksgiving, ready to be carved up for pumpkin bread or pumpkin pie. In my 30-plus years experience in the produce business, I have seen pumpkins last into the fallowing spring and early summer. Be sure not to carve too early if you do carve a jack-o-lantern, it can take only a couple of days for the pumpkin to go bad once it has been carved.

Did I mention that the Kabocha squash is very nutritious? It is an excellent source of beta-carotene, owing to its bright orange flesh, which can be converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is important for healthy white blood cells, good immunity and for vibrant eyes, skin and hair. A single serving of Kabocha squash provides 70% of the day’s recommended requirement. A good source of iron, vitamin C and some of the B vitamins. Enjoy the season and try a seasonal hard squash for your dinner menu if you have not done so for a while. Happy Halloween!

Quick and Easy Roasted Kabocha Squash  

  • Cut one medium Kabocha Squash in half and place the cut sides down in a baking dish.  Add about 1/2-inch water to dish and bake at 350°  approximately 45 minutes until tender.
  • Remove two halves from baking dish and cut each in half again – creating four quarters.  Score each quarter with a diagonal crosshatch pattern, trying not to pierce the outer rind. 
  • Brush each quarter with melted butter and sprinkle with nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and brown sugar.
Roasted Rosemary Kabocha Squash 

Leftovers of these do not last long – my husband almost prefers them as a snack the next day just cold out of the refrigerator. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium Kabocha squash (cut into 1″ thick wedges)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic (pressed)
  • 1 tbsp ground dried rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp of nutmeg

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven at 375 degrees.
  • In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients except the squash.
  • Place the squash in a baking tray
  • Pour the marinade over the squash and rub all sides of each wedge.
  • Arrange wedges so that they do not overlap
  • Bake for about 40 minutes or until soft

Pictured above – Pumpkin Butter Cake and Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cake

Pumpkin Butter CakeThis cake is more suggestive of a pumpkin pie with a cake-like crust than an actual cake.  I generally use a couple of 9-inch spingform pans to make it easier to transfer to a serving platter. 

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 1 (18 1/4-ounce) package yellow cake mix (regular or gluten-free)
  • 1 egg
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups fresh pumpkin puree or 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions   

  1. Preheat oven to 350° 
  2. Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan, or two 9-inch cake pans.
  3. To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure not to over bake as the center should be a little gooey.

 

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin CakeA favorite with the chocoholics in my family.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • ¾ cup finely chopped pecans, divided

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon; add to the creamed mixture alternately with pumpkin, beating well after each addition. Fold in chocolate chips.
  2. Divide batter in half. Stir melted chocolate into one portion. In a well-greased 10-in. fluted tube pan, sprinkle 1/2 cup pecans. Spoon chocolate batter over pecans; top with pumpkin batter. Sprinkle with remaining pecans.
  3. Bake at 325° for 65-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack