This perfect cusp of the growing season and the harvest season is my favorite time of year: umami incarnate. Warm days are chased by chilly evenings, afternoons take on an amber effulgence through dappling leaf-flutter. This is cardigan-and-tights season; it’s the time of year I became a bride in art deco huntress’ garb. Fall is here, darlings, and thankfully so are savory squash dishes.
Kabocha are a lovely squash, aren’t they? Freckled, moss-hued skin with firm, apricot flesh – even its scars and warts are beautiful. This simple Japanese dish celebrates the kabocha’s wabisabi.
Select a kabocha by its appearance – just like picking a jack-o-lantern for carving, you’ll know the right one when you see it. It should feel heavy for its size. Halve and seed it, then cut one of the halves into bite-size pieces, skin on (don’t worry, it will become tender after it simmers). Wrap up the other half and save it for later if you’ve picked a rather large pumpkin like I did. In your favorite thick-bottomed pot, simmer 4 cups of dashi or some other broth (I bet chicken would be fine, but maybe add a little kombu seaweed if you’re not going with dashi), about 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 2 or 3 tablespoons each of mirin and sugar, about 1/2 cup of sake and my touch: a good, fat knob of shiro miso. Simmer this gently for about 45 minutes or an hour or so, until the squash is tender but not mushy.
Serve with rice (I would eat the leftovers with some grilled chicken or fish, maybe a light sunomono?) and some blood-temperature sake. And feed some to your baby boy – he really loves orange foods these days.