Perfected Pumpkin (or Kubocha Squash) Pie

dscn1219

I have accumulated several pumpkin pie recipes over the years, and none of them were just right and so I’d adapt as I went, sometimes with good results and sometimes not.  This year I decided to take a more methodical approach, and so bought what I thought were sugar pumpkins.  They were not.  Then I tried again, and was again disappointed with the pumpkin.  Maybe if you grow your own, good baking pumpkin can be had, but I’m done with trying because Kubocha squash (“Japanese pumpkin”) makes a wonderful pie, as shown in the picture above.  While none of the experiments were rejected by the family, each effort was closer to my ideal, and below is the only pumpkin pie recipe now in my book.  I use Pillsbury pie crusts, bought eight at time from Sam’s, stored in the freezer.

As a side note, canned pumpkin is not pumpkin either, as other winter squash from the same family have better texture, color and flavor:

Canned Pumpkin Ingredients

 

Two 10″ Pumpkin (or Kubocha) Pies

Preheat oven at 450 F.  Put all of the following into a blender, and then blend.

  • 4 cups pumpkin or 29 oz canned pumpkin puree
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon flour (I use oat)
  • 1.5 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon molasses
  • 1 rounded teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger & cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon orange extract
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ c Cream
  • 1 c milk

Once oven is to temperature spread crusts out in pie pan (I use oven-safe glass), and pour filling into each.  You may want to pour in the last few cups once the pies are in the oven to avoid sloshing onto the exposed part of the crust.

Bake at 15 minutes 450 F, and then 30-40 minutes 350 F.  Check with a toothpick in the center to ensure the pies are done.

Best if allowed to cool to room temperature.

Umami Bombs and a Savory Squash Casserole

Umami is a Japanese word for one of the five tastes we can detect, the word meaning “pleasant savory taste”.  The umami taste receptors sense the presence of glutimate, an amino acid used by our bodies to synthesize proteins.  The other four tastes are sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness (typically indicative of poisons).

The Food LabI first heard of the term Umami Bomb while reading The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  I highly recommend this book:  he runs experiments on cooking!  And is an entertaining author, and of course there are numerous excellent recipes, based on the principles he has proven through analysis and testing.  The book is 916 pages and with steady progress I’m up to 785 — which is amazing for me for a non-fiction book.  In this book he describes the Umami Bomb as being a triumvirate of foods with very high glutimate concentrations that will also fade into the background of your dish and not overpower it:  anchovies, soy sauce and Marmite.

For years I’ve heard about the wonders of anchovies in dishes.  Periodically I’d buy some.  Then years later I’d decide they were too old and probably deadly and throw them out.  Having tasted everything-on-it-including-anchovies pizza once (a hideous experience), really, how could one tell if they’ve gone bad or not?  An Italian woman at work gave me a firm look while expounding on the virtues of adding anchovies to spaghetti sauce.  Kenji was talking up the non-anchovy tasting result of his Umami Bomb, so finally I tried it in a Savory Squash Casserole that I made up due to having Kabocha squashes on hand and no recipe that inspired me.  None of the three ingredients in the Umami Bomb could be tasted, and the resulting casserole had did have a savory meatiness beyond the amount of sausage present.

SAVORY SQUASH CASSEROLE

Toast slice of toast — I like whole grain

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Coarsely chop:

  • 2 cups roasted winter squash.  I used Kabocha, but acorn squash or pumpkin would be fine.
  • 1 mild, cooked Italian sausage (2 might be even better)

In a skillet soften one small chopped onion in a dash of olive oil on low heat.  Then add and cook until mixed and anchovy dissolved:

  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon Marmite
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • one anchovy fillet (next time I may try two)

Soften 2 cloves chopped garlic in a little olive oil — I used the microwave

Mix everything plus 4 oz. of shredded Gruyere cheese, and salt (or seasoned salt) to taste.

Put in a meatloaf pan and pat down.

Tear the toast into small chunks and food process with:

  •  A drizzle of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of seasoned salt
  • Rounded teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese

Add in an even layer to the top of the squash mixture in the meatloaf pan and pat down.

Cook until breading is browned:  20-30  minutes.

There’s no escaping the slight sweetness of the squash, but in an effort to create a purely savory dish, I count this a success.

—————————–

Below is a audio interview with Kenji going over some of his culinary experiments and describing his Umami Bomb.

Inside the Food Lab with Kenji López-Alt

KenjiThe first thing he goes into is the bread experiment, which caused me to do my own experiment and I think his experiment was set up incorrectly!

In the audio he describes that pizza crust from New York is thought to be superior.  In the book, it’s Rome.  The idea being that the location’s (New York or Rome) high mineral content water used to make bread makes superior bread.  In both experiments he uses mineral water versus low mineral water.  The mineral content of these waters were high in magnesium as well as calcium; whereas the mineral content of the water in Rome is very high only in calcium because acidic water percolates through limestone saturating the previously acidic water.  I suspected there was insufficient calcium in the Kenji experiment, and the added variable of high magnesium levels.  So, I crushed up a calcium carbonate supplement — the identical chemical found in limestone — and used vinegar to dissolve it.  Added some to one loaf of Italian bread and none to the other; each otherwise prepared and baked identically side-by-side.  The one with the added dissolved calcium did not brown as well, but was noticeably more chewy and wonderful.  I now have a pint jar of vinegar saturated with calcium carbonate for future Italian bread baking.

However, other than this one issue, Kenji was brilliant.  The audio also goes into the best way to grill hamburgers, and with Labor Day tomorrow, knowing that may be timely!

 

Kabocha Winter Squash (Japanese Pumpkin) Experiment

The kabocha squash is a pumpkin-like, grey-skinned squash from Japan.  I have no room in my little 24 foot by 24 foot raised bed garden for winter squash or melons, but we have piles of partially rotted tree trimmings so I planted the squash in one of those.  A few inches down, the pile was still very warm as micro-organisms were actively converting the wood into humus (no, not the luscious chickpea dip), so I wasn’t at all sure it would work, but my only loss was the cost of a packet of seeds.

DSCN0757

As you can see, the vines started off very strong, and did produce seven full-sized squash.  Then over the past two weeks the vines died off with several of the squashes never having made mature size. Perhaps this is normal, or perhaps not — the cucumbers in my garden all died at the same time leaving many baby cucumbers shriveled.  In any case, the return on that packet of seeds was well worth the minimal cost and effort involved.

Thinking the smaller squashes may not be worth keeping, I cut them all open.  They did have some places that were starting to rot, but otherwise looked and smelled promising.  Roasted (slathered in coconut oil and Tsardust Memories seasoning), they turned out quite tasty, even with the skin on.  I ate a few and then skinned the rest and later converted most of them into a Savory Squash Casserole.  Dogs love cooked pumpkin and mine loved the leftovers from these as well.

DSCN0943     DSCN0957

Below are the full-sized squash:  not a huge harvest, but ridiculously easy, and next year the mulch pile will have rotted more and be less hot, so hopefully there will be more squashes.

DSCN0965

These were Winter Sweet hybrid kabocha seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  Since they’re hybrids, saved seeds won’t breed true.  Next year I’ll look for a variety I can plant and save seeds on my own, or failing that, I’ll save seeds from several of these squashes and work my way towards a reproducible, non-hybrid, kabocha squash.