It all began with a word, potimarron, which is the common name in French for scarlet kabocha (also known as red kuri squash or orange hokkaido squash). That word may not look or sound like much to non-native French speakers, but to these French ears, it evokes two of childhood’s cold weather pleasures, pumpkin (potiron) and chestnuts (marrons).
We didn’t have jack-o’-lanterns (or potimarrons for that matter) in France when I was growing up but my grandfather grew huge potirons (Cinderella pumpkins) in his vegetable garden (my grandmother made sweet pumpkin soup every fall) and the fragrance of roasting chestnuts was ubiquitous in Paris in late fall and winter: as soon as I was old enough to go to my weekly piano lessons by myself, my mother would give me a few coins so I could buy myself a cornet de marrons chauds (a paper cone of hot chestnuts) when I exited the métro at Place de l’Étoile. I would stick the hot cone in my coat pocket and one of my hands would remain warm all the way down Avenue de Wagram where a bitter wind always chilled me to the bones.
I remember the chestnut man too. He was dressed all in black and wore a thick tweed cap with flaps that covered his ears. He rubbed his hands constantly and when he removed one of his knit gloves to rummage for change in the tin box where he kept his money, I could see that his fingertips were red. As I left clutching my cornet deep inside my coat pocket, I could hear him start calling again in a singsong: “Chauds, chauds, les marrons chauds…”(Hot chestnuts, hot chestnuts) and while I dearly loved my white-haired and soft-cheeked piano teacher, this scratchy little tune has remained alive in my memory when, sadly, her polkas, sonatas and mazurkas have long since sunk into oblivion.
So when I first heard (or read, I can’t remember) the word potimarron and long before I had a chance to see or taste the actual squash, I was already under the spell. When I finally managed to get my hands on one of these bright beauties, the spell worked its magic and I fell in love.
Of course the kabocha is an easy squash to love. Since its skin is edible, while it does have to be washed, it doesn’t have to be peeled. It can be sliced open, seeded, then steamed or roasted. It can also be cut into chunks and added to a soup where it boils happily with other vegetables. It cooks rather fast in fact. Its flesh is both creamy and dry and does taste a lot like buttery chestnuts. It is also choke-full of vitamins, fiber and oligo-elements.
For all these reasons, when I saw a potimarron cookbook in a bookstore in Paris last March, I couldn’t resist, all the more because its author was Cléa, a French blogger I greatly admire for her imaginative and flavorful cuisine. We now live in a part of the country where kabochas are commonly grown (among many other beautiful and tasty winter squashes) and having so many creative kabocha recipes at my disposal means we can take full advantage of this local crop without ever feeling bored or tired.
Witness the giant scone breadsong and I made for breakfast a couple of days ago. She was in town for a BBGA-sponsored baking class which I also attended and she stayed over at our house. I did the mixing and breadsong kindly did the shaping, giving me a personal demo of her scone hand-“laminating” technique (she normally shapes the dough in a rectangle but it is easy enough to reshape it in a circle once the “laminating” is done).
It was indeed a learning experience to see breadsong at work: seemingly heeding secret orders, the dough shaped up for her in a way it may never have for me. I had thought it was really dry and would require the addition of buttermilk or yogurt but breadsong said, no, it would come together as it was and she was absolutely right, it did. Sheer mastery! Thank you, breadsong, I will always trust crumbly scone dough from now on and also, always, always, “laminate”as it does indeed make for a much airier texture. My heartfelt thanks to you too, Cléa, for being a fellow kabocha lover and for sharing your many ways of enjoying this magnificent squash!
- 125 g cooked kabocha puree (I steamed big chunks of the unpeeled kabocha, then ran the cooked squash through the foodmill. I tried using the food processor but it wouldn’t work: I would have had to add some liquid, which I didn’t want to do)
- 20 g olive oil
- 50 g fresh goat cheese, crumbled (Cléa used fresh sheep’s milk cheese but I didn’t have any)
- 1 egg
- 100 g emmer flour (I milled emmer berries I had on hand. If you don’t have access to emmer, you may want to replace it with all-purpose flour or white whole wheat flour or equal parts of all-purpose and regular whole wheat flour)
- 150 g oat flour (Cléa uses corn flour but I didn’t have any)
- 10 g baking powder
- 6 g sel
- 25 g dried apricots, chopped
- 25 g hard sheep’s milk cheese, grated (I used a Basque cheese but I suspect Manchego would work fine too and it may be easier to find)
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°F/180°C
- In a big bowl, mix together the kabocha puree, the oil, the goat cheese and the egg until mostly incorporated (I used a fork)
- Add the apricots and the hard cheese
- Transfer to a work surface and quickly work the dough into an 8-inch circle (it will look impossibly crumbly at first)
- Cut in six with a dough cutter without detaching the slices
- Bake for 30 minutes
- Enjoy warm or cold (it will keep well for a few days in a ziploc bag).
The Giant Kabocha Scone goes to Susan for Yeastspotting.