Hau'oli Makahiki Hou, or Happy New Year!
When I married a man who didn't like olives and didn't do much cooking, I had no idea that LB would become the Bread Man of the house (and lo and behold, he also quickly fell in love with olives - after only gentle prompting to try the ones that didn't come from a can). These days, he can whip together a mean batch of pizza dough, some amazingly fluffy pull-apart clover rolls, or toweringly high biscuits (that put my hockey-pucks to shame) in merely the blink of an eye. But pizza dough is his favorite. He's always coming up with new toppings for his pizzas too, like roasted cauliflower or his "buffalo chicken wing" pizza. Nearly all of them have been extremely tasty. We especially like to have pizza topping cook-offs, where he'll make up a batch of crust for at least two pizzas, he'll make one and I'll make the other, and we'll see which one we like best (I don't have to tell you that oftentimes we pick our own and there is almost always a tie).
You can really put almost anything on a pizza and finding a winning combination is part of the fun. One of the pleasant surprises about living in Hawaii has been finding fruits and vegetables that I thought I knew well, that for whatever reason (the planets align properly to make some perfect? the electromagnetic properties of the island?) taste especially sweet and delicious here. These include pineapples, mangoes, and papayas - which I wasn't too surprised about - but also persimmons and kabocha squash.
Kabocha is a Japanese winter squash (or pumpkin) that is rich in beta carotene, iron, vitamin C, potassium, and even some small amounts of calcium, folic acid, and B vitamins. Interestingly, kabocha continues to grow after it's been harvested. It's picked when it is fully mature (ie. flavorful), then ripened in a warm place (77°F) for up to 13 days to help its starch begin to convert to carbohydrate content. Following this, it's transferred to cooler temperatures and stored for about a month, continuing the starch transformation. When kabocha is picked, it's dry and bland, but after this transformation it's flesh becomes a reddish-yellow color and is smooth and sweet. Apparently, kabocha reaches the peak of ripeness about 1.5~3 months after it's harvested (Wikipedia).
I've always liked kabocha, but here in Hawaii it tastes like it's taken a luxurious soak in the perfect amount of brown sugar solution, and to top it off, it's texture is unbelievably silky and smooth. It needs no adornment - no butter, no maple syrup, no sugar, no anything - just cut it up (or not), roast it at 400F for half an hour to 40 minutes and that's it. It certainly puts its cousin, the butternut squash, to shame. Here, every kabocha I have tried has been fabulous, and every butternut squash has been stringy and tasteless. So I'm now a kabocha lover and convert and I use it in almost everything I can, from salads to side dishes to soups, and of course, as a pizza topping.
This was the latest venture in our pizza topping quest and the combination was splendid. It felt like a big hearty hug in the middle of winter - the delicately sweet flesh of the kabocha went wonderfully with the hearty, savory scent of the sage. Add a little cheese, some other winter vegetables and a few spices, and you're good to go.
Kabocha Squash Pizza with Kale and Fresh Sage, makes one large pizza
1 large pizza crust (see below)
1 small kabocha squash, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
pinch of salt
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
2 cups chopped kale, thinly sliced
1/2 pint of mushrooms (I used local Hamakua oyster mushrooms)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 cloves of garlic, minced
a small handful of fresh sage, minced
goat cheese or feta cheese (I actually used goat feta from Surfing Goat Dairy on Maui)
Parmesan and red pepper flakes, for garnish (optional)
Buy or make your own pizza crust - if you've never made it before, try! It's easy, and the results will be worth it. We use one from the Joy of Cooking, but there are lots of crust recipes out there.
Preheat your oven to 425F and toss the squash pieces in 1 tbsp. olive oil and salt. Roast on a sheet pan in the oven for 35-40 minutes until soft and tender but not mushy. (I did this the day before and kept it in the fridge until I needed it...something I often to when roasting veggies is roast extra for a second meal later on in the week).
Saute the onions in a medium pan until translucent. Add kale, mushrooms, red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook until the mushrooms give up their water and the kale has cooked down quite a bit. Add the garlic the last few minutes of cooking and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat.
Brush the pizza crust with olive oil, then layer on the kabocha squash and onion mixture. Sprinkle the sage over the top and then dot the cheese across the whole pizza. Cook the pizza until the crust is firm and the cheese is slightly browned or melted (feta doesn't melt much...). Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan and more red pepper flakes.
Other Pizza Posts:
There's Always Time for Pie : Blue cheese, red onion and pine nut pizza; Caramelized onion and balsamic vegetable pizza
A Perfect Fall Meal: Mushroom and Pancetta Pizzas
The Pizza Research Institute, Eugene, OR: Apple, gouda and walnut pizza
Hau'oli Makahiki Hou, or Happy New Year!