Flash in the Pan: Japanese Pumpkin Pie

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Kabocha, also known as the 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 grey 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 farm stand 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 have proven and reproved again that pie is the highest form of winter squash eatery. It’s the one form of squash of which nobody gets sick. And there is an infinite universe of possibility inside every squash pie.

I don’t use any of the pie spices except nutmeg, so its piney, resin-y flavor can stand alone against the squash pie flavors.

I tend to enhance my squash pies with chocolate, which goes so perfectly with squash pie. 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.

Basic kabocha pie

This is my kabocha pie recipe, including two variations:  chocolate chip and pecan pie-flavored kabocha pies.

Serves six

2 cups cooked (baked or steamed) winter sweet or similar kabocha squash

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 eggs

Pinch or two of nutmeg, preferably freshly ground

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup milk or half & half

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust

Preheat oven to 350. 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, vanilla, sugar, nutmeg and eggs, and blend until smooth. Pour the filling into a 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

Add six tablespoons of semisweet chocolate chips to the ingredient list above.

After blending the pie filling, transfer it to a mixing bowl and add four 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 two tablespoons of chocolate chips on top. Bake at 350 as above. 

Chocolate pecan kabocha pie

1 chocolate chip kabocha pie, ready for baking

2/3 cup corn syrup

3 tablespoons butter

½ tablespoon vanilla extract

1 additional egg

1 cup pecan halves

In a mixing bowl, combine the corn syrup, butter, vanilla, egg and pecans. Carefully pour it over the kabocha pie, so it forms a second layer. Push the pecans around to make them even. Bake for about an hour at 350. It will puff up as it bakes, but will condense on the counter.

(Flash in the Pan is food writer Ari LeVaux’s weekly recipe column. It runs in about 100 newspapers nationwide, nourishing food sections large and small with complete protein for the belly brain.)

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