Halloween has come and gone, and in its wake I’ve been left with a pair of Minnie-Mouse ears and battered prints of pictures featuring trick-or-treaters, costumes, Jack-O-Lanterns, and general good-old American Harvest-time fun. But aside from my now-abject educational props, I feel as though I’ve really made a lasting contribution to the Japanese classroom via cross-cultural exchange: I carved three darling Jack-O-Lanterns out of kabocha squash!
It was almost too perfect. There just happened to be three lonely little kabocha sitting on the desk behind me in the teacher’s room, and when my curiosity got the better of me, I ventured to ask whether it would be alright if I got crafty with them. To my delight, the Vice Principal handed me the squash, a box knife, some newspaper, and, at my request, a spoon, and I set up shop on a coffee table. One hour later, I had a bagful of mealy pumpkin innards, a smattering of lopsided chunks of squash, and amidst all that mess, three grinning faces. It was a joy to watch the looks of surprise and amusement when passing teachers and students saw the Jack-O-Lanterns :)
Best of all, I was rewarded for my efforts: I got to take home the leftover bits of pumpkin! And for anyone who has carved a pumpkin in their life (and had as wonderful cook of a Mom as I did), you know that the second best thing about taking a knife to a large squash is cooking something out of your foolery. In this case, I was able to toast two batches of pale-golden seeds and steam a cup of the sweet, nutty squash. I know there are a million recipes out there for toasted pumpkin seeds–sweet, savory, spicy, and everything in between–but this is so simple and basic, I think it barely qualifies as an actual recipe. But sometimes the simplest methods yield the most striking results–a hint of olive oil, pellets of salt, and the perfect crunch of toasted pepitas!
Bare-Bones Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
1 Cup pumpkin seeds, thoroughly rinsed and set out to dry overnight
Prepare seeds: Set out a strainer, and while going through all of the pumpkin innards, remove slimy, stringy pumpkin bits from the seeds and place them in the strainer. Continue until you have gone through all the pumpkin guts and have collected all the seeds. Run the strainer under water, and with your hand, brush off as much of the residual stringy stuff as you can. Give the strainer a good shake or two to remove as much water as possible, and set seeds out on paper towels to dry overnight. This process is, unfortunately, rather tedious and time-consuming, but put on some good music and just space out for a bit :)
Preheat oven to 200˚ C/400˚ F.
Place pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet, and drizzle a few drops of olive oil over the seeds, shaking the pan to coat. Sprinkle with salt, and bake for 5-10 minutes, or until seeds are golden. Once or twice throughout the baking process, stir seeds with a spatula or wooden spoon to prevent burning.
Let cool in the pan, sprinkle with more salt if needed, and serve warm or room temperature. Munch munch!