As fleeting and wonderful as Shark Week, another much-anticipated period hits my household each year: Squash Week (Dun dun dun!). But unlike Shark Week, Squash Week is free of junk science and sensationalism. Well, fine, here’s a little sensationalism for you Shark Week fans:Squash Week airs in the McLively household mid-November, when Berkeley finally gets a mid-60’s “crisp” in the air that piques those fall flavor cravings. The farmers’ markets fill up with squash options of all shapes and sizes. Sure, you have your typical butternut squash and sugarpie pumpkins, but the real treat is picking out those more exotic varieties that you may have missed last fall. And since this is a blog about exotic produce, that’s exactly what I did.
I picked these three out at Berkeley Bowl for my blog, plus a spaghetti squash and delicata squash to whip up some quick work-week lunches. As a result, there has been squash roasting in my oven all week long, as is stipulated in the Squash Week terms of agreement. I’ll roll out the recipes one at a time so I don’t spoil you…For this first recipe, I’m starting with the most unique: the Blue Hokkaido. I think this must have been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s pumpkin carriage in Cinderella, which has this same smoky blue color and is equally enchanting. Inside this beauty is a deep orange flesh that is probably the sweetest squash you’ll ever taste. It has a nice firm texture that is great for roasting, and because it’s a kabocha-type squash, you can eat the skin.This squash, like kabocha, is a Japanese variety, named for the island of Hokkkaido. Like all winter squash, it is a great source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium and iron, with some calcium as well. In fact, winter squash is considered one of the healthiest foods out there, with blow-your-socks off levels of carotenoids (a potent antioxidant). Its high fiber content is also a huge plus.The recipe I created for the Blue Hokkaido was inspired by my brother-in-law, Mike Byrne, who dropped an entire flat of pomegranates by my house this week (his work as a professional photographer has many perks, like taking home the edible set props). I couldn’t think of a better way to highlight the bright hues of the pomegranates and the squash than a colorful rice dish.
I even had some preserved lemon still left over from this summer that gave this dish even more bursts of zestiness to compliment the rich spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron.
I had bought some hazelnuts to toast and sprinkle on top but, in the race against the sun, I forgot to put them on before photographing it. I tried them later and they are a delicious way to add some protein to the dish. Try it with nuts, or don’t — either way, you’ll love it.
Spiced Rice with Blue Hokkaido Squash
- 1/2 cup wild rice
- 1 Blue Hokkaido Squash, sliced in half, seeded, and cut into 1″ cubes (leave skin on)
- 5 Tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and fresh cracked pepper
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Spices: 1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise pod, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, 5 cardamom pods, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1 pinch saffron
- 1 1/2 cup basmati rice
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Juice from 1 lemon
- 2/3 cup fresh chopped parsley
- Seeds from one pomegranate
- 2/3 cup chopped roasted hazelnuts
- optional: preserved lemon
Put the wild rice in a small saucepan with a lid and cover with water until the water covers the rice by 2 inches. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Cover and let rice simmer on low for about 50-60 minutes or until rice is tender but not mushy. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop cooking and set aside for later.
While wild rice is cooking, place cubed Hokkaido squash on a baking pan and drizzle with 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and fresh black pepper and toss to coat. Roast in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until squash is tender.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 3 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauteé for 5-10 minutes or until the onion is soft and beginning to caramelize. Add the garlic and spices and sauteé for 1-2 minutes to release the flavors in the spices. Add the rice and stir to coat the rice in the oil and spices. Add the water and 1 teaspoon sea salt and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and turn heat to low to simmer rice for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and keep the lid on to let the rice steam for an additional 10 minutes.
When ready to assemble, place the wild rice, basmati rice, lemon juice and parsley in a large bowl and toss to coat. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasoning. Top with the pomegranate seeds and roasted squash and toss lightly to mix through. Garnish with preserved lemon and chopped hazelnuts if desired. Serve slightly warm or room temperature.