Monday through Friday, I step off the train in the morning at Penn Center Suburban Station following a 45 minute commute, and the smell of coffee smacks me in the face. I love it; in fact, look forward to it. Without ingesting a bit of caffeine, I’m awakened for the second time.
Allow me to add another aroma I wouldn’t mind confronting each morning: kabocha squash baking in the oven. Sweet, nutty, and fragrant like a decadent dessert when, in reality, it’s a nutritious impostor with many recipe functions.
Kabocha arrived in my CSA share, among other varieties of produce that are new to my vocabulary (thank you, Landisdale Farm!). From Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes and Red Tropea Onions to Sweet Dumpling Squash and Sugar Baby Watermelons, I’m amazed at the innumerable varieties of fruits and vegetables. Squash isn’t just squash anymore – it’s kabocha, acorn, sweet dumpling or zucchini.
And, for squash, it doesn’t end there. This fruit is so revered and plentiful, it maintains two classifications – winter squash and summer squash. The terminology’s misleading, however, it’s indicative of their common characteristics, not the growing season. Summer squash is typically harvested before the skin has a chance to thicken, while winter squash is not harvested until fully matured and the skin has thickened for optimal storage. Winter squash must be cooked, while summer squash can be eaten without having to cook it.
Kabocha is a winter squash with a subtle sweet taste that mimics a sweet potato, and a fantastic baking aroma that I experienced twice thanks to this recipe. These Raspberry Oat Bars came together somewhat haphazardly; I wanted to showcase the bright raspberries from Stauffer’s Fruit Farm that I picked up over a week ago. With a serious sweet tooth, I’m always looking for ways to make addictive baked goods healthier while still tasty, and fruit and vegetable purees are capable substitutes for butter and oil. I modified the original recipe by completely replacing the butter with cooked, mashed kabocha squash, and about 1/8 cup of vegetable oil to help moisten the batter (kabocha squash has a low water content), keeping in mind that a little fat goes a long way in taste and texture. I also substituted half of the all purpose flour with whole wheat.
Like other orange vegetables and winter squash varieties, kabocha is an excellent source of beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant protective against both heart disease and cancer. It’s also a very good source of vitamin C, iron, potassium and fiber. The raspberries are rich in ellagic acid, a potent antioxidant that recent research suggests helps prevent wrinkles.
These bars are tender, flaky, tart and, dare I say, wholesome? Perfect as an afternoon snack, a dessert, or an accompaniment to your coffee on your way into work. It will be a good morning, for sure.
Raspberry Oat Bars
Adapted from Raspberry Cookie Bar recipe
To cook the kabocha squash: Cut squash in half, remove fibers and seeds and place the halves facedown in a baking pan. Bake until soft, about 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Cutting raw kabocha squash can be difficult – before you break out the brute and cleaver, try microwaving it whole for 3 minutes. You should be able to cut it easily. Alternately, you can take a hint from Hogwash blog and just put the entire thing into the oven and bake a bit longer. Once cooled, cut in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff, mash the flesh, and you’re ready to make these yummy bars.
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup quick or rolled oats
- ½ cup cooked, mashed kabocha squash
- 1/8 cup vegetable oil (approximate)
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ pint raspberries
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square pan, set aside (I used a cooking spray).
- In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt with a wire whisk.
- Add rest of ingredients except raspberries. Stir until large crumbs form.
- Press 2 cups of mixture into prepared pan.
- Roughly chop raspberries and distribute over pan mixture as evenly as possible.
- Sprinkle remaining crumbs over top. Lightly press crumbs into jam.
- Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until brown around edges.
- Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Servings 16 to 25 depending on size of bars cut.