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Kabocha squash gratin

Sat, 14 October, 2023

Kabocha squash aka Japanese pumpkin in a cheesy, easy, pleasing winter gratin. Deliciously comforting.

kabocha squash gratin

What is kabocha?

Kabocha is a type of squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin. It is a little squatty, smaller than the ordinary queens and butternuts and it has a hard, dark to striated light green skin. Inside it is dark yellow to orange, depending on its size and ripeness.

In Japan, kabocha is enjoyed in many ways. They roast it in slices seasoned with soy sauce, prepare it simmered in dashi, Japanese broth, or deep fry it in tempura. Apparently it makes you strong and brings good luck if you eat it during winter months.


Japanese or not?

Kabocha is very popular in Japan, but it actually originates from South America. Portuguese sailors introduced kabocha to Japan in the 16th century.

There is some confusion around how the name for the squash came about. It could have been the Portuguese name for the plant, Camboja abóbora subsequently shortened to ‘kabocha’. But perhaps it’s derived from ‘Cambodia’, whence the Portuguese might have arrived in Japan.

But apart from Japan and Portugal roots, kabocha is a common enough squash as it grows well in a colder climate too. Perhaps less frequently encountered in supermarkets than other squashes, it is still quite a typical member of the pumpkin family.

kabocha bake

What is its taste and texture?

I’d love to tell you that it’s uniquely wondrous amongst squashes, well worth hunting for in Pick Your Own farms and farmers market stalls. And it is worth it, but frankly it does taste squashy, similar to the better known butternuts and acorns.

The skin is edible which somewhat differentiates kabocha from the others, but it is rather tough. The texture of the flesh is pleasant but mushy, as you would expect in a squash.

Which means this recipe is flexible enough for you to use a replacement squash in, instead of kabocha, although the ribbons of dark green skin which also hold the squash slices together are pretty distinctive.

cheesy squash bake

How to prepare kabocha for gratin?

It is one tough bugger, is kabocha! Possibly even more so than other squashes. So in order to cut it in half, then slice it without stabbing yourself or nearby children and pets, it pays off to microwave it briefly before cutting.

Depending on the size, microwave it at full power for two to four minutes. It will help to handle it a bit, but you will still need a hefty, sharp knife.

First cut it in half vertically and scoop the seeds out with a spoon. Then, with care, slice each half into thin crescents, starting from the flesh side of each half.

A slicing attachment on a food processor may sound like a good idea but it’s likely to mangle the squash. And a mandolin might go blunt. I found that old fashioned knife skills are the most helpful in this instance.

preparing kabocha

How to prepare the sauce for kabocha gratin?

Hurrah, hurrah, no bechamel. This is the simplistic approach to gratin, meaning you just mix double cream with grated cheese, seasoning and herbs, and Bob’s your uncle.

kabocha and cream

The downside of it is the risk of the sauce curdling and splitting if the dish overbakes – but even in that case it will still be delicious, if not as pretty.

You can see mine has split slightly this time, but since I always prize content over form, I let it go.

oven ready kabocha gratin

How long to bake kabocha gratin?

It is quite a wait for your dinner, the same as with any other squash bakes.

Covered with foil, but not so tightly that the foil sticks to the cheese, it needs an hour to soften. After that time, with the foil off, it should return to the oven, optionally sprinkled with breadcrumbs for a maximised crunch of the topping, for about fifteen minutes or so.

And of course it has to rest before serving, otherwise everyone will burn their mouths.

kabocha gratin

More squash and pumpkin recipes

Baked pumpkin with melty cheese: a recipe ideal for Halloween, Thanksgiving or Bonfire Night. Pumpkin fondue in individual munchkin pumpkins, mini or baby pumpkins, baked and filled with cheese. This is the best way to bake and stuff a pumpkin.

Five-spice butternut squash in cheesy custard, with orange rayu (Japanese chilli oil) is precisely the treatment the squash needs to be a great dish. No surprise, it’s a recipe from Ottolenghi.

Classic American dessert, pumpkin pie, gets a festive twist in the shape of a cranberry layer, adding tang and cutting through sweetness. The pie crust is made from scratch, and to die for.

japanese pumpkin gratin

More gratin recipes

Don’t believe when they tell you that potatoes and cabbage are poor man’s food. This potato and cabbage gratin is fit for a king’s table.

Hasselback potatoes with cheese and cream, baked into a crusty gratin. This must be the best potato gratin recipe, made with cheesy hasselbacks fashioned from sliced potatoes so the recipe is really easy.

Celeriac gratin recipe with cream, garlic and grated cheese. Celeriac tastes a bit earthy and is suitable for a mash or puree, celeriac fondant or celeriac soup.

baked sliced kabocha squash

Kabocha squash gratin

Servings: 2Time: 2 hours


  • 1 small kabocha squash
  • 200ml (1 scant cup) double cream
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • a pinch of chilli flakes
  • 5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 50g (½ cup) grated Cheddar or Gruyere, or a mix
  • 1 tbsp breadcrumbs


1. Microwave whole kabocha on full power for 1-2 minutes, depending on the size.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/350F/gas 4.

3. Cut kabocha in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice it thinly into crescents.

4. In a medium bowl stir the cream with the salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Strip the leaves off the thyme sprigs and add to the bowl together with grated cheese.

5. Add the kabocha slices to the bowl and toss to coat thoroughly. Arrange them in a gratin dish in a shingled layer. Pour the cream-cheese mix over to cover the squash.

6. Tent the dish with foil, making sure it doesn’t touch the contents. Bake for 1 hour.

7. Uncover the dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes until the top is browned to your liking.

8. Let the dish stand for 10 minutes before serving.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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