I really enjoy October and November out here in Los Angeles. Warm days, cold nights, and squash sandwiches at every deli. Sweet, fluffy, nutty kabocha squash, or Japanese pumpkin, hits its peak season every Fall and it becomes readily available at nearly every grocery store in town. Professional sandwich makers are quick to roast it, put it on some local bread, and add their own chef-driven (vroom vroom) twist to this seasonal gourd.
Take this sandwich from Wax Paper Co. in Los Angeles. Spicy kabocha squash, pecan pesto, honey burrata, sage lemon honey, and savory pepita seeds. This sandwich is baller, both filling and deeply flavorful. I like it because Wax Paper doubles down on three distinct flavors: spicy, sweet, and nutty. You get that classic Fall nuttiness from the kabocha, the pecan pesto, and the pepitas. Then, there’s the spiciness from the chile seasoning roasted with the pumpkin. Lastly, the spiciness and the nuttiness are rounded out with some honey. It’s a powerhouse of a vegetarian sandwich, both decadent and balanced. It also proves an important point: kabocha is best when it’s got some heat to it.
Another great example of squash sandwich supremacy is the roast pumpkin spice sandwich at Jeff’s Table. It features spice roasted kabocha and kuri squash with goat cheese, fermented jalapeno garlic salsa, shaved pickled fennel, red onion, wild arugula, and house made hoisin. This sandwich, again, infuses spice into pumpkin. Jeff and his crew throw a lot of bitey flavors at it, too.
Both of these sandwiches absolutely rip, and they both highlight kabocha as an incredibly versatile vegetable. Cook it just right, and when you pierce it with a knife it’ll remind you of a perfectly prepared russet potato (pumpkin potato salad, anyone?). The Japanese pumpkin responds well to just about any flavor you throw at it, making it the perfect canvas for Fall flavors.
In the spirit of kabocha squash season, I made my own version of a spicy kabocha sandwich. A version that comes together fairly easily at home. It’s fat-rich and gives you an excuse to fill your home with the smell of sautéed onions and garlic. What’s not to like?
- 1 Kabocha squash weighing 2-3 pounds [Note: if you can’t find kabocha, butternut squash is a great substitute]
- 3-4 hoagie rolls, sandwich rolls, or whatever bread you please
- 1 Tbsp. brown butter per hoagie roll (here’s a tutorial on making brown butter)
- 2 Tbsp. ground chipotle seasoning
- 2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
- fresh arugula
- salt + pepper
- 1/2 large onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
First, make the Onion + Garlic Mayo: In a pan over medium heat, add the onions, a pinch of salt, and the tablespoon of butter. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring as needed. If the pan looks too dry, add a bit of tap water. Don’t go for a full caramelization of the onions, but rather just a thorough sauté to get them sweet and soft, not jammy.
After about 15 minutes, add the garlic and cook with the onions until they’re soft and fragrant, about an additional 3 minutes.
Next, add the onion/garlic mixture to a food processor or blender and blend until it’s a rough paste. Add the paste and the paprika to the mayonnaise and stir. Set in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
To cook the kabocha squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Take your sharpest knife and split the kabocha squash down the middle. Scoop out the seeds, discard, and flip each half of the squash so the skin side is up and the cut side is down. Cut the squash halves width-wise into about 3/4" wedges. Place on a sheet tray and drizzle the grapeseed oil on both sides. Add salt and pepper liberally (I think an abundance of cracked black pepper goes a long way here). Dust each wedge with the chipotle seasoning. Now do the same for the other side of the squash: season with salt, pepper, and chipotle.
Place the kabocha in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, flipping the squash after 10 minutes in the oven to cook evenly. It’s done when you can pierce the squash easily with a knife. In the end it should be soft yet firm, not cooked to complete mush. (Think like potatoes for a potato salad here.) Once it’s out of the oven, cool the kobacha for 10 minutes or so. Slice the skin off with a pairing knife while it’s still warm.
Next, take some brown butter (I keep a big batch in my fridge usually) and melt it in a pan. Place the bread down on the butter and cook until golden on one side. Assemble your kabocha squash sandwich. I put onion + garlic mayo on both sides, add the arugula, then the kabocha wedges, and fold up my hoagie roll. There you have it: A rich, vegetarian Fall sandwich.