Temperatures are dropping. Dark green trees are beginning to speckle with flecks of gold. And piles of kabocha pumpkins have made their appearance in grocery stores. Signs all point to one thing — fall is here. It’s cool enough to bear using your stove again (yay!), and these kabocha and cheese korokke (croquettes) are a delicious place to start. Crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, each korokke is filled with a comforting mixture of sweet kabocha and sharp cheddar, spiced with smoked paprika and cayenne. Every bite is a reminder that you have successfully survived another scorching summer.
Kabocha is a type of winter squash, and many refer to it as “Japanese pumpkin.” Unlike Western pumpkins, kabocha’s vibrant orange flesh has a much sweeter flavor. If you haven’t cooked kabocha before, you may find that they can be a bit tricky to cut open. Start by removing the knobby stem. Then cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. (Some people like to microwave it for a few minutes to soften the kabocha, first.) I find a large, sharp chef’s knife will do the trick: Just cut down with purpose, and imagine something that will make you angry enough to get the power to slice it. There are several ways to cook it before mashing, but the easiest are to either steam it in a pot or use a microwave. Once fork-tender, the flesh is a breeze to separate from the skin.