With the first signs of fall in the air, the shorter days and cooler evenings bring with it an array of winter nullsquash, which are loaded with flavor and nutrients to get you through the season. From the more common butternut to the delicious Buttercup, there are quite a few varieties to try. But there is one in particular that I go back to time and time again: the Sunshine kabocha squash. Also called a Japanese pumpkin, it has a rich flavor and smooth texture when slowly roasted in the oven, making it an extremely versatile squash. Whether used to make soups, pies or simply roasted and seasoned with a little salt and pepper to be enjoyed as a side, you can't go wrong with this one. As this dense, small, round squash begins to roast in the oven, its bright orange skin begins to soften. The skin is so thin, in fact, that it can be eaten; the texture resembles the flesh.

This hearty fall and winter staple is loaded with essential nutrients to keep you healthy through the cooler times of the year. Due to its deep orange flesh, kabocha squash is loaded with the essential antioxidant beta-carotene, enough to supply almost 150 percent of the daily value in just 1 cup of cooked squash. Kabocha squash is also a very good source of dietary fiber and supplies vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, and a good amount of potassium.


When selecting kabocha squash, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, the skin should be orange throughout, free of any green that was present in its developmental stage. Second, the size of the squash doesn't make too much of a difference when it comes to flavor, but a small one will go a long way. Unlike some other winter squash varieties, the kabocha has a very high ratio of flesh to seed and skin, so it is quite dense.

Sunshine kabocha, like other winter squash, keeps well. Uncut squash can be stored for three months or longer in a cool, dry place. Storage below 50 degrees (as in the refrigerator) will cause the squash to deteriorate more quickly, but refrigerator storage is acceptable for a week or two.

No matter what the end use for your kabocha squash is -- whether pie or soup -- the best results always come from a slow roast in the oven. Below is a recipe for delicious Kabocha Pumpkin Squares, a recipe my mom used to make regularly during the holiday season. Served with an orange glaze icing, it is quite a treat to enjoy this time of year.

Sam Edelman is general manager of the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Association. His column appears every Thursday. E-mail him at food@newspress.com.



KABOCHA PUMPKIN SQUARES

2 pounds kabocha squash (butternut or Cinderella will also work) (available from Roots Farm at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang, Friday Montecito, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real farmers markets)

Olive oil

1/2 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1 egg

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon each ginger, allspice, baking soda

1/2 cup raisins (available from Avila and Sons Farm and Peacock Farm at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang, Thursday Goleta, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real markets)

1/2 cup walnuts, optional

Orange glaze, see recipe

Place squash stem side up on large cutting board, cut in half from top to bottom (use sharp knife) and remove seeds by scraping walls with a spoon. Coat both insides with olive oil and place flesh side up in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until squash is fork tender. Remove from heat and allow squash to cool long enough to be handled. Scrap out flesh and measure out just over 1 firmly packed cup. In food processor or blender, puree until smooth. Measure out 1/2 cup of puree and place in mixing bowl. Cream together butter and sugar with electric mixer. Add egg and squash. Beat well. Combine flour with the spices and baking soda. Add to creamed mixture. Add raisins. Mix. Spread evenly in greased 11-by-16-inch glass baking pan. Bake for about 16-18 minutes at 350 degrees. Spread with glaze straight from oven so glaze melts. Cook's note: You really have to spread the batter in the pan because it is pretty thin, but it does rise enough when cooked.

Yield: about 16 squares

ORANGE GLAZE

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon orange juice

Mix on high with electric mixer.

Yield: about 1 cup
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