My first experiences with eating pumpkin of any kind were not happy ones. My aunt Luciana would make this soupy thing called riso e zucca (literally, rice and pumpkin) which was a rice soup where pumpkin was added. By the time the rice was cooked, the pumpkin had dissolved. It was neither savory nor sweet, just…. blah.
Consequently, the first time she suggested I try the roasted pumpkin she had cooked, I made a face – you know, the kind that involves a twisted nose and a gagging look.
Without getting into details, my aunt is the kind of person to whom saying no is really hard, nay impossible; something that requires strong intent and lots of energy. Over a little bit of pumpkin… it just wasn’t worth the effort. I caved and took some home with me, figuring my mom had better share in the experience. I must have been about thirteen or fourteen at the time.
We looked at it, smelled it, figured it was not poison, so we reached for a couple of forks and tried a bite. A whole new pumpkin world opened up for us in that moment. The savory style of roasting with some garlic and sea salt had transformed the blah experience of the soupy thing into a flavorful dish we could not get enough of. Pumpkin has been popular in my family every since, except with my dad – but then he is Mr. Picky – and featured strongly in the restaurant menu, in season, of course.
Sage and rosemary are widely used in Italian cuisine and are among my favorite herbs. It was an easy decision to add either (or both) when roasting pumpkin, and I have been doing it for years. I am calling it generically pumpkin because I like the sound of it, even though I tend to use kabocha.
In Italy, there is a divine variety of pumpkin that is rather large, thick skinned and oblong shaped, called Napoletana (Neapolitan). The flesh is a deep orange, flavorful and firm. It looks like a much larger butternut squash, but with more rugged skin. Butternut squash, however, is not a substitute, being too watery and also bland in flavor.
That is when I found that kabocha suited the bill: a different shape, green skin, but just as divine. It is also smaller, thus much easier to cut open and clean. While handling the Napoletana at the restaurant, I remember how I sometimes wished I had a hatchet in order to cut through the thing, so big and hard it was!
This is another one of those easy recipes which is not exactly one – that is: no real doses are necessary, just your eyes. And taste buds.
PAN ROASTED KABOCHA WITH GARLIC & SAGE
– kabocha (I happened to pick up a medium/small one)
– garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half, core removed
– a bundle of fresh sage leaves
– extra-virgin olive oil
– sea salt
– freshly cracked black pepper
1. Using a large knife, cut the kabocha in two halves, then cut those into quarters. Cut the quarters into wedges (see images above) then, using a paring knife, cut out the seeds and fibers. If you are using an organic kabocha, you can leave the skin on like I did. Wash it first, of course.
2. Drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil into a sauté pan – as you can see I like to use those new non-stick calphalon fry pans (with lids). Place on the stove at high heat and arrange the kabocha slices, garlic and sage leaves inside. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper and cover with a lid.
3. When it starts sizzling, let cook for about thirty (30) seconds, then lower the heat to medium-low. Add a little water (for the amount you see in the image I used about 1/4 cup), cover with the lid again and let cook till all the liquid has been absorbed, the pumpkin is tender but still holding up well (a knife tip runs through it without breaking it) and it starts coloring. With the help of a couple of wooden or plastic spatulas, turn the kabocha slices over so they color on both sides, gathering flavor. You can raise the heat a little again as necessary. This whole process should take between 8-12 minutes at the most, depending on how thick your pieces are, as pumpkin cooks pretty fast.
If you find you have added too little water, add a little more. If you have added too much, just remove the lid and let it cook uncovered so the moisture evaporates.
Just so you know, I cooked all of mine in two batches.
The kabocha is now ready to serve, perfect as a side for Thanksgiving (or any time). Leftovers can be reheated in a baking dish covered with foil in the toaster oven the next day. Or…. you can do what I did, and make a whole new dish out of it.
The next day I wanted something warm to eat, preferably soup, but I had nothing to make soup with – not the kind I had in mind anyway. I looked at the leftover kabocha and thought: hum, maybe pasta. I looked in my pantry, saw I had some penne and figured those would do. I had a piece of parmigiano in my refrigerator and more sage, so I started the process.
This is what I did to make PENNE WITH KABOCHA, GARLIC & SAGE AU GRATIN
I put water on to boil in a stock pot, cut the roasted kabocha into bite size pieces, and grated the parmesan. Halfway through this (meditative) process, I decided I wanted something more lasagne-like, or mac & cheese-ey – something au gratin. Total comfort food, which is what soup would have been.
I had no other cheeses in the refrigerator, however, so I quickly made a cup of béchamel sauce (white sauce) to lace everything with and add some creaminess. I did not even bother to measure, I just poured some milk into the saucepan, added a Tablespoon of flour, some freshly grated nutmeg (don’t you just loooove nutmeg?), a pink of salt, a dot of butter and cooked it up.
Proportions for béchamel are:
– 500 ml. (16.9 fl. oz. or 2.11 cups) milk
– 50 gr. (1.8 oz.) flour
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– freshly grated nutmeg to taste
I made roughly half of that. You can halve or multiply to suit your need.
When the pasta was cooked, I strained it then added it to the bowl with the pieces of kabocha, drizzled a little extra-virgin olive oil on it and mixed. Then I added a sprinkling of parmesan, and finally the béchamel sauce, mixing each time. I distributed the pasta among three lightly buttered ramekins (that’s how much there was), topped with fresh sage, more parmesan and dots of butter, then placed the one I was going to eat in the toaster oven at 390F for about 15′. The other two I covered and placed in the refrigerator once they had cooled to room temperature. One ended up in a friend’s tummy for dinner, and the other I had for lunch the next day.
Amounts of ingredients will vary depending on how much leftover kabocha you have. I had about half, as I had shared some with the same friend, so I used 150gr. of pasta, and everything else was in proportion to that. Of course, you can make the kabocha specifically to then make this pasta.
The best part is that you can make it a day ahead – or even two – and stick it in the oven when you are ready to serve. Perfect for Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas, or any seasonal dinner party. Or even just for you!
Quick summary of ingredients:
– short pasta (cooked in boiling salted water as usual)
– roasted kabocha cut into bite size pieces (and all the garlic and sage that was already with it)
– more fresh sage leaves
– béchamel sauce (see proportions above)
– extra-virgin olive oil
– unsalted butter
– freshly grated parmesan
Sidebar: if you are like me and have drooling, begging dogs next to you while you eat, resist the temptation of giving them a bite of this pasta. Nutmeg is on the list of foods that are not good for dogs. Unless, of course, you skipped on the nutmeg.
I am curious to know: did you ever create a dish out of leftovers that turned out to be even better than the one you had made to begin with? What was it?
If you have enjoyed this recipe, here are a few more easy and light ones: