Baked Kabocha Fries

I certainly could have named this recipe something like baked pumpkin fries, but I chose to be more specific to eliminate confusion when it comes to selecting a pumpkin to bake.

Kabocha is a variety of winter squash (pumpkin). They belong to the Ayote family that includes: hubbard, buttercup, Hokkaido and the 28 different varieties of Kabocha. The Kabocha pumpkin is ideal for baking/roasting because of the dry flesh and sweet flavors reminiscent of chestnuts or potatoes that intensify when cooked.

Butternut squash and the bright red/orange Hokkaido also work well if you keep the skin intact when cooking them – don’t worry the skins are perfectly edible and quite tasty.

I like to find several different varieties and mix them for this recipe. The different colors and textures are amazing and quite festive for an Autumn appetizer. I usually make a soy sour cream or spicy tahini sauce to dip the wedges in – either way is sensational.

Yield: makes about 4 appetizer servings

  • 500 grams (1 pound) trimmed kabocha pumpkin

  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

  • 2-3 teaspoons curry powder

  • freshly ground black pepper (i make 17 turns)

  • extra virgin olive oil to lightly coat the pumpkin pieces (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 210°C (410°F). Line a baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper).
  • Place all of your prepared kabocha pumpkin in a medium-size mixing bowl (see tips below for instructions on preparing a pumpkin).
  • In a separate small bowl, combine the cornstarch, sea salt, curry powder and ground black pepper. Mix well, then add to the pumpkin. Toss very well to make sure all the pieces of pumpkin are evenly coated.
  • Add just enough extra virgin olive oil to coat all the pumpkin. Add the pumpkin pieces to the baking tray.
  • Bake for 15 minutes – make sure you use a timer. Remove the pumpkin from the oven, turn all the pieces, then return the pumpkin to the oven and bake an additional 13 minutes. Enjoy right away with your favorite dip.

Jack’s Fresh Tip

Trimming pumpkins is always a bit dangerous because of the hard skin and round shape. I like to use a heavy bread knife to sort of saw off the top and bottom of the squash. This will provide a level bottom and stability of the pumpkin. I then drive my knife right through the middle of the pumpkin from top to bottom and bring the knife toward me. This maneuver cuts half the pumpkin. Just turn the pumpkin around and cut the other half. Scoop out the seeds and pulp with a spoon (save them for a broth), then simply cut the pumpkin into thin wedges – about 1-cm (1/2-inch) for baking purposes. Leave the skin on if the it appears relatively soft – the skin will cook well in the oven and it tastes great. You will need to trim the skin off very hard pumpkins and just work with the flesh.

There are so many variations to this recipe. As an example, you can give the recipe an Italian slant by using dried oregano or thyme, maybe some rosemary and a bit of chili pepper flakes. Or move in a North African direction and add some cinnamon, cumin powder, paprika and a touch of cayenne pepper (this would be delicious with the spicy tahini dip).

You can also make this recipe without coating the pumpkin in oil before baking. The oil helps to bind the spices to the pumpkin and creates a bit of moisture. Instead of the oil, try using a touch of oat cream – just enough to get the pumpkin slightly moist. The liquid in the cream will steam away and the remaining part should blend well with the seasoning.

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