Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Japanese Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta Bake (with Recipe)

Japanese pumpkin, Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta Bake recipe, sweet pumpkin

A while back, while I was still spending most of my time reading Hong Kong food blogs and discovering new ingredients and recipes, I was amazed by the Japanese pumpkin everyone (Hong Kong food bloggers) were raving about. They are much much smaller in size (more like a squash than pumpkin), have a really thin green outer skin that, according to some of the bloggers, were edible, and were mostly used in bread (kneading the pumpkin puree into the dough) and pastry (sweetened with cream and sugar for fillings) recipes, which was exactly what I was into that time.

The problem was that they were really hard to source in the UK. The only place I ever saw it was in London's Japan Centre, and no way was I gonna fork out approx. £6 for half a Japanese pumpkin that was only slightly bigger than my hand.

Japanese pumpkin, Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta Bake recipe, sweet pumpkin
You can see the starchiness from the pumpkin here, like sweet potato but even thicker and more solid
Just like chestnut but yummier!

Anyway, my sister in law managed to grow one (low productivity due to weather, but well worth it!) from the seeds my mum sourced for us. As the only pumpkins I have seen were carving pumpkins and squashes, I wasn't certain whether the pumpkin was ripe or not, as it has this raw avocado texture when I chopped it open. After skinning and digging the seeds and things out, there really wasn't much pumpkin flesh left! Again I wasn't really certain what texture I should be expecting, but since I wanted to cook pasta with it, I did a Google and found a lot of Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta recipes, so I thought, why not?

I'm not sure how it would have been if I have used other type of squash in this recipe, but Oh My God it was amazing! Not only was the Japanese pumpkin surprisingly delicious (a bit like cooked chestnuts), the whole dish was so yummy everyone had second helpings, including Clay who normally can't finish his first! Since it was so yummy, I thought I should share my recipe with you! And even if you can't source Japanese pumpkin, you can always use chestnuts, or if you don't like that, just use normal Butternut Squash, according to my sister in law who used both chestnuts and squash in her version it was delicious as well!

Japanese pumpkin, Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta Bake recipe, sweet pumpkin

Japanese Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta Bake (serves approx 6 people)

Ingredients (amount and weight depends on your liking. If you like more meat, add more meat, etc):

500g Pasta
- cooked according to packet instructions, drained and set aside
1 Japanese Pumpkin/ Butternut Squash (or a bunch of blanched Chestnuts)
- skinned, cleaned and diced into cubes
1 packet Smoked Thick Cut Bacon
- cut into stripes or cubes
1 clove of Garlic
- peeled and lightly smashed
1 pot (284ml) of Single Cream
Dashes of Milk might be needed
5-6 slices of creamy/ mild Cheese (I used Dutch Gouda) or shredded Mozarella
Sugar, Salt, Pepper and Chicken Stock Powder (or jelly pot) for seasoning
Herbs like Parsley can be used if you like

Large oven proof dish


1. Heat a large pan (ideally non stick), and without any oil, fry the bacon stripes with the smashed garlic until the bacon starts to brown. If there is any liquid coming out from the bacon while frying, pour this into a bowl for later use

2. Add the pumpkin cubes, fry for approx 2 minutes, then add the bacon liquid (if any) back into the pan and stir fry until the liquid is absorbed, then cover and turn the fire to medium low and let it cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Stir every so often to prevent the food from burning, until the pumpkins seems cooked. (they look more translucent)

Preheat oven to 200 degree Celcius/ gas Mark 6

3. Open the lid, chuck away the garlic (or you can keep it in if you like), and pour the cream into the pan. Stir well. If the cream gets absorbed too quickly, add some milk to loosen the sauce. 
*Amount of milk depends on how runny you want the sauce, and how much sauce you would like in the pasta. If you accidentally added too much milk, this can either be absorbed by the pasta you'll be adding in later on, or a bit of corn starch water (1 part of corn starch to 1 part of water) can thicken it up

4. Season to taste. It should be really salty to begin with because of the fried smoked bacon. Add a tsp of sugar at a time to tone the saltiness down, or add more milk to dilute it. Add a bit of chicken stock (half a tsp of stock powder or half a jelly pot should do) to add extra flavour to the dish.
* Bear in mind that adding the pasta later on will dilute the flavour 

5. Stir in the cooked pasta until it's evenly coated with the sauce. Adjust seasoning and amount of sauce if needed. Make sure the dish has enough sauce as it tends to dry up a bit after baking in the oven.

Japanese pumpkin, Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta Bake recipe, sweet pumpkin

6. Fill a large oven proof dish with the pasta up to 1cm below the edge (unless you are certain you can fit everything in). If you have extra pasta it's tasty even without the baking, and can be served separately or for next day's lunch!

7. Flatten out the pasta gently, then cover them with cheese slices or shredded cheese.

8. Bake the pasta for approx 5 to 8 minutes, or until the cheese has started to brown. Serve with a side salad.

As I adjust the amount of ingredients and seasonings while cooking, I don't have a guideline of how much ingredients and seasonings you should use. Just make sure that you taste the food every time you adjust the seasoning, then adjust again accordingly, keeping in mind that other ingredients you are adding later on will change the flavours. So try to season your dish as last minute as possible.

Hope you'll enjoy this simple dish as much as we did!