Among the dozens of varieties of winter squash, to my mind, one stands out for its rich, sweet flavor: the deeply orange, slightly pear-shaped red kuri. James Holloway and I roasted more than 30 pounds of them last night, for the 100 or so people who came to our weekly vegetarian dinner in Palo Alto–and there was not a morsel left! All we did was cut them in half, scoop out the center seeds and pith, then cut them into serving-size pieces and sprinkle lightly with salt, mirin and olive oil. We covered and roasted them in a 400º F oven for about 50 minutes, then we continued roasting with the cover off for 10-15 minutes. Simply prepared as they were, last night’s red kuri squash was brilliantly delicious.
Red kuri’s provenance is interesting. One French site speculates that they were introduced to Japan by the Portuguese from the Americas (where all winter squash are believed to have originated) in the 16th Century. Although the Japanese developed this variety, red kuri appears to be a case of a culinary borrowing being borrowed back to the Americas. In fact, one reason that supplies of red kuri squash are spotty is that a part of California’s production is exported to Japan! People writing about red kuri often describe its “chestnut-like flavor,” which isn’t something I taste. There is some connection to chestnuts, however, because kuri in Japanese means chestnut and the French name (potimarron) refers to chestnuts as well. And the French, who know food, have made the potimarron their favorite winter squash. Whatever you do with any squash, you can probably do better with red kuri: soup, mashed, stew (I’m betting it would make a killer pumpkin pie!). While I usually mention butternut squash in recipes because it is the most widely available winter squash and is often very good, if you can get your hands on one of these sweet little squash, do not miss the opportunity.