Kabocha, also known as Japanese pumpkin, is a versatile and delicious winter squash. The flavor is starchy and sweet, with a firm body that can handle being cooked many ways, from tempura-fried to roasted to steamed to sweet purees. The seeds are plump. The hard skin is edible. The squash experience is complete.
Once upon a time, there was just one kind of kabocha squash. It was dark green, medium-sized, and roundish. Nowadays there are myriad varieties of kabocha, including the bright orange sunshine, the striped green Cha-Cha, the ruddy Black Forest, and my favorite, the pale gray Winter Sweet.
According to the Johnny’s seed catalog, “Winter Sweet delivers a winning combination of sweetness, flaky texture, and depth of flavor that has made it a favorite on our research farm. Not only that, this reliable producer keeps very well and improves with storage.”
We have a farmstand in front of our house, maintained by my kids and supplied by a grumpy farmer south of town. He grew most of the above kabocha varieties I just named, plus butternut, delicata, and other winter squash varieties. As I have cooked my way through the squash inventory, I’ve proven and proven again that pie is the highest form of winter squash eatery. It’s the one form of squash nobody gets sick of. And there’s an infinite universe of possibility inside every squash pie.
I don’t use any of the pie spices except nutmeg, so its piney, resiny flavor can stand alone against the squash pie flavors.
I tend to enhance my squash pies with chocolate, which goes so perfectly with squash. And the other day, when I was feeling particularly indulgent, I decided to bake a chocolate chip squash pie with a pecan pie on top, the two layers separated from one another by a layer of chocolate. It was as decadent as one might expect. A pie-opening moment, to say the least.
This is my basic kabocha pie recipe, including two variations: chocolate chip and pecan pie-flavored.
- 2 cups cooked (baked or steamed) Winter Sweet or similar kabocha squash
- 1 cup milk or half-and-half
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Pinch or two of nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
- 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Make sure the cooked kabocha is free of seeds, skin, string, and any other impurities. Add the squash to a blender, followed by the milk, cream, eggs, vanilla, sugar, and nutmeg, and blend until smooth.
Pour the filling into the crust and bake for about 45 minutes. When it puffs up like a soufflé, remove it from the oven and let it cool on the counter, where it will solidify.
Chocolate Chip Kabocha Pie Variation: Add 6 tablespoons of semisweet chocolate chips to the ingredient list above. After blending the pie filling, transfer it to a mixing bowl and add 4 tablespoons of chocolate chips, gently stirring them in with a spoon. Add this chocolate chip filling to the crust. Smooth it out and then scatter the final 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips on top. Bake at 350 as above.
Chocolate Pecan Kabocha Pie Variation: Prepare a chocolate chip kabocha pie as above until just before baking. In a mixing bowl, combine 2/3 cup corn syrup, 3 tablespoons butter, 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract, 1 egg, and 1 cup pecan halves. Carefully pour it over the kabocha pie so it forms a second layer. Push the pecans around to make them even. Bake at 350 for about 1 hour. It will puff up as it bakes, but will condense on the counter.