Cooking is like building something with Legos. This dish is a prime example. It started with a quarter of a kabocha pumpkin, a little past its prime, languishing in the veggie drawer. It wasn't enough kabocha to do a nimono or other pure kabocha dish, but without some kind of intervention, this sweet squash was in the fast lane to the great compost pile in the sky.
When creating a new dish, I like to play with contrasts, so my first thought was to pair this with something meaty and salty to balance the sweet vegetal flavor of the pumpkin. Thankfully I had a pack of pancetta in the fridge, and its intensely savory flavor was perfect. Bacon, prosciutto, or speck all would have worked just as well.
With the main cast selected, it was just a matter of finding the supporting flavors, and a bag of pine nuts in the freezer was just the herbal richness needed to round out the kabocha and pancetta.
Ensemble selected, I started cooking, and right about when the dish was done, I tasted it. Rich, nutty, savory, and sweet, it was delicious, but it was the kind of dish that gets old after the third or fourth bite. My solution: a splash of apple cider vinegar. The tanginess cuts through the richness while accenting the kabocha's sweetness, the pancetta's meaty umami, and the pine nuts' grassy flavor. Mission accomplished!
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