Some cooks get caught up in the question of squash variety, and, sure, it can be mind-boggling if you let it. But the dirty little secret is that, for the most part, one squash can pretty much substitute for another in just about any dish. The biggest differences are that some varieties, such as kabocha (one of my favorites), have denser, drier flesh than others. I discovered that a few years ago when I tried to develop a recipe for a pumpkin curry inspired by one I had at a Thai restaurant - and wondered why the sauce kept turning out so insipid and watery. I switched to kabocha, which absorbed the coconut milk-based sauce rather than leach water into it during cooking. Problem solved.
So many other times, though, it honestly doesn't matter. A vibrant orange kabocha squash dish graces the cover of the lovely new cookbook "Gjelina," for instance. The recipe calls for the squash to be roasted until tender, then charred in a grill pan and drizzled with a mint-pomegranate pesto. Author Travis Lett, chef at the Venice Beach, Calif., restaurant that gives the cookbook its name, calls for kabocha because he loves its dense flesh - and allows that red kuri squash "makes an excellent substitute."
But guess what happened in a week when I missed all chances to get to a farmers market and looked for either variety at three supermarkets? I decided not to sweat it any further and bought the best-looking squash I could find: good old acorn, with its deep exterior ridges. It behaved in the recipe just as a kabocha would, getting tender in the oven in the same amount of time that Lett specified, and charring nicely.
Its flesh might not be as dense or dry as kabocha's, but when I spooned that pesto on top and took a bite, the combination was delicious. I'll try it sometime with Lett's favorite squash, but I won't hesitate to make it with any variety I find.
GRILLED SQUASH WITH MINT-POMEGRANATE PESTO
MAKE AHEAD: The pesto needs to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. You'll have about a cup of it left over; it can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature and stir just before using.
For the pesto
• 1 cup chopped fresh mint
• 1/3 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (arils)
• 1 tablespoon minced shallot
• 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
• 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
• 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
• 1 clove garlic
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed
For the squash
• 1 winter squash, such as kabocha, red kuri or acorn (about 1 3/4 pounds), halved across the equator and seeded
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• Kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
For the pesto: Combine the mint, pomegranate seeds, shallot, oil, pomegranate molasses, Parmigiano-Reggiano and lime zest in a medium bowl. Use a Microplane zester to grate the garlic into the mixture; stir to combine, then stir in the salt. Taste, and add more salt as needed. Let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Stir in the lime juice just before serving. The yield is 1 1/2 cups.
For the squash: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place the squash halves, cut sides down, in a roasting pan. Add 1/4 cup water to the pan, then cover with aluminum foil; roast until the squash has softened, 25 to 35 minutes. Transfer the squash halves to a platter or cutting board to cool, then cut each half into thirds.
Heat a large grill pan over high heat.
Drizzle the squash wedges with the oil, turning to coat, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook the squash pieces one one side until well charred, 3 to 5 minutes. Resist the urge to move them; the wedges will release easily from the pan once they begin to blacken. Turn them over and cook the other side until charred, 3 to 5 minutes.
Transfer to a serving platter. Stir the pesto to reincorporate, then spoon 1/2 cup of the pesto over the squash. Serve warm.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 6): 180 calories, 1 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 70 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar