The Lilia chef calls kabocha squash "the perfect vehicle," and we're inclined to agree
Lilia, Missy Robbins’ beloved Italian joint in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is one of the hottest restaurants in New York City right now—and it’s easy to see why. We’re still dreaming of pillow-like housemade agnolotti stuffed with sheep’s milk cheese, cacio e pepe fritelle and a show-stopping squash dish that inspired to revamp our Thanksgiving menu.
The restaurant's off-menu kabocha squash is served whole, tableside. After arriving, the waiter removes the top half of the squash, which looks more like a pumpkin, by the way, uncovering a dreamy trio of Parmigiano fonduta, hazelnuts and, wait for it, shaved white truffles sprinkled on top. (If only the server allowed us to decide when to stop sprinkling, but nonetheless, it was a very generous portion of truffles sourced from Urbani.) Don't be fooled into thinking it’s a pumpkin, even though the texture is almost identical.
The idea for the dish—which is quite simple to make at home—came to life after a farmer Robbins works closely with sent the squash over to Lilia. “We are always looking for new ways to cook long and slow in the wood-fired hearth,” Robbins says. “It seemed like a good vehicle. It also happened to be the perfect timing as truffles were about to start coming in, and I wanted to offer different dishes than I did last year.”
As for scooping out the goods, dig in with a spoon and slather onto grilled bread, just as you would at Lilia. “But really, it needs no vehicle other and a spoon and your mouth,” she adds.
“I chose to use kabocha squash because they are not too sweet and lend themselves to pairing great with other flavors,” Robbins says. “You don’t need a wood oven to do this. You can do it in a regular oven. If you wanted that extra smoke that comes from the fire, you could put the squash on a low covered grill at home.” If kabocha squash isn’t readily available, acorn or delicate squash will suffice, “but the big, communal presentation is a part of the fun,” she adds.
Here are three other memorable ways to serve the squash at your Thanksgiving, as suggested by Robbins, who recently released the cookbook Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner...Life.
Stuffed whole kabocha squash
As Robbins reveals, the kabocha squash is an excellent vehicle for a diverse range of ingredients. “You can create a similar dish to the whole kabocha, but with different flavors,” she says. “Last night I made a preparation at home with habanero, honey and queso fresco. It had great balance.” The sky is the limit, so check out what you’ve got at home and go from there based on flavor preferences.
Ribollita, a Tuscan soup traditionally made with bread, cannellini beans, cabbage, kale and a handful of other veggies, is a soup Robbins makes on occasion. “I like making soups like ribollita and using squash as the main vegetable,” she says, which offers the dish a quick and easy upgrade. The warming soup makes the perfectly seasonal Thanksgiving appetizier.
Most people think of pumpkin it comes to fresh pasta fillings for fall and winter, but squash works exceptionally well, too—especially creamy kabocha squash. “You can use squash to make gnocchi or filling for pasta,” she says. “Perhaps not unexpected, but people love it.” If you're Italian, and pasta is an integral part of your Thanksgiving feast, consider this add.