Monday, December 31, 2012

Baked Winter Squash with Greens & Bacon

Individual plate of Baked Kabocha Squash with Greens
Contrast in Color, Flavor, and Texture

Kabocha Squash and Collard Greens, Recipe by Robin

Let’s wrap up 2012 with a favorite winter recipe that relies on contrasts. Pairing sweet, dense, and soft kabocha squash with strong, chewy, and sour collard greens, this is perfect food for saying goodbye to 2012, filled as it was with both ease and challenge. The recipe was inspired by a potluck dish I had years ago. The cook would only disclose that she used red kabocha squash, known in some countries as Japanese pumpkin. It’s drier than most winter squash, so benefits from cooking in sauce or stews. Green kabocha is also available, but you’ll have to peel it to get the color contrast. Though this is a vegetarian dish, my recent foray into the bacon world has inspired me to add a with-bacon option.

Basket with Red Kabocha Squash, Collard Greens, and Leek
Just Three Basic Ingredients
After trying many different greens, I settled on collards because they have the strongest flavor and texture, and so provide the best contrast to the soft, starchy kabocha. The stems are tough, but can provide good crunch if the greens are small, as is typical in winter. Use your discretion, but I’d discard most stems that are over 3/8” – ½ “ in diameter. You could substitute chard or kale in this recipe, but neither will provide the slightly bitter contrast that collards do. Use 1 – 2 bunches of greens, depending upon the size of the bunches and of the kabocha. The idea is to get an equal amount, and remember that the greens will cook down significantly. More greens are usually better.

Kabocha Squash Halves on Cutting Board
Remove Ends and Crusty Spots
My husband says that the only thing he doesn’t like about this dish is having to separate the kabocha squash from its skin while eating. The person who baked the original dish said that the skin was edible, and I enjoyed it, at least initially.  I experimented with peeling off the skin, without success. Like sweet potatoes, kabocha's hard “shell” layer is deeper than just the skin, and it’s hard to identify its depth until after baking. Next time I'll skip the peeling. For a formal occasion, you could “peel” the squash before serving by scooping out the insides of each piece as you arrange them on the serving platter with the greens. If your kabocha has any crusty yellow spots on the surface, I recommend microplaning or slicing them away before baking.

Squashing the Squash before Adding the Greens,
Next Time I Won't Bother to Peel It
Last cooking concept of 2012: bacon option! I haven’t yet tried it but here’s what I’d do: bake the squash as usual; you’ll add the bacon to the greens. Fry up ½ lb. of bacon in a large skillet or electric frying pan. Remove bacon from pan, drain and pat dry with paper towels, crumble when cooled. Drain off all but 1½ tbsp. of bacon grease, then sauté leeks in bacon grease. Continue preparing greens as below, BUT eliminate the grey salt. When greens are cooked, stir in crumbled bacon before adding to squash.

Thank you readers, for a wonderful 2012. Enjoy the final hours of the year and Happy 2013 to you and yours.

Serving of Baked Kabocha Squash with Collard Greens
Healthful & Filling Winter Fare
Baked Kabocha Squash with Collard Greens
serves ~ 10

1 large red kabocha squash (~3 lbs.)
1 tsp. butter
2 tsp. (packed) brown sugar
~3/8 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
1 cup chicken or veggie broth (for squash)
1 leek, or 4 hefty green onions
1 – 2 bunches collard greens
1 ½ tbsp. olive oil
1 cup chicken or veggie broth (for greens)
1/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
½ tsp. grey salt
~8 grinds black pepper
1 ½ tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash kabocha squash. Cut squash in half from top to bottom using cleaver and rubber mallet. Remove seeds and fibrous membranes. Cut off stem and blossom ends. Microplane or peel off any fibrous brownish spots.

Soften butter in the microwave, or semi-melt it on stovetop. Brush onto the inside cavity of the squash. Press brown sugar firmly on top of butter. Sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon.

Place squash cut-side-up in 9” x 13” baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Then turn squash cut-side-down and add 1 cup broth. Continue baking until soft enough to press kabocha halves down flat into baking dish with large spoon, about 15 – 30 minutes, depending upon age and thickness of the squash.

Meanwhile, make the greens. Cut root end and tough green parts off leeks. Slice in half lengthwise and wash off dirt between leaves. Slice each half-round leek into ¼ inch slices. If using large green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces. Wash collard greens and remove stems if over 3/8” thick, or if they seem old or tough. Chop greens into 2-inch pieces, and stems into about ½ inch pieces.

Heat olive oil on medium in a large skillet or electricfrying pan (325 degrees).  Add leeks and sauté for 2 minutes. Add chopped collard greens, broth, lemon juice, and grey salt (omit the latter if using bacon). Grind black pepper over all. Cover and cook down, stirring up from the bottom every 5 minutes, until greens are dull in color and somewhat tender (check stems). This will take about 15 – 20 minutes.

When both squash and greens are tender, remove squash from oven. Flatten squash by pressing down with large spoon or paddle. Arrange greens and their liquid over the top of the squash so that the surface looks both orange and green.

Return baking dish to oven. Bake an additional 15 minutes, or until squash is completely tender. Serve in baking dish or arrange on serving platter. 

Baked Kabocha Squash and Collard Greens Just out of the Oven
Serve As is or Remove to Serving Platter


  1. I just wanted you to know that I included your squash recipe in a kabocha round up. I will be tweeting and pining it this week.

  2. Thanks, Diane! I'd never heard of kabocha squash when I first tried a version of this dish at a potluck, but since then this recipe has become a family favorite.