As the festive holiday season and the end of year approaches, it is a time when all sorts of emotions come to the surface. For some, it is a time for feelings of nostalgia and excitement, and is a joyous occasion for family and friends to come together to connect. But for many, this time of the year can be a struggle to find joy with a heightened feeling of loneliness and anxiety, and when absent friends and family are especially missed.
I feel both nostalgia and excitement, muddled with overwhelm, anxiety and moments of deep contemplation. When I was young, Christmas was always such a special time with my family when I was growing up. My Aunty Jenny and Uncle Peter used to hold long Christmas days where I was surrounded by my parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and good food. Those were wonderful times for me. As the years passed, our Christmas traditions have since changed and evolved, as people moved across the world, or sadly passed. When my Uncle Peter passed, so did this phase of our family tradition.
Over time we created new traditions, albeit with a smaller group of us, which was (and is) always centered around delicious food – because food is my family’s love language, and has that power to heal, remind us of happy times and bring people together.
For me it’s all about the healing powers of nostalgic smells and sweet and nutty flavours that make you feel like you’re engulfed in a comforting warm hug, such as this creamy cinnamon spiced Japanese kabocha squash (a cross between pumpkin and sweet potato) and chestnut recipe. These ingredients are typically used in all of our festive holiday meals as a family, and this dish I created is an amalgamation of combining them together. The squash is a highly nutritious addition to any meal, and whenever I make it I serve it as a vegetable accompaniment to a main dish. It is also great as leftovers!
Prep time 30 minutes
Cooking time 1 hour
- 1 medium Japanese kabocha squash (slice in half, remove the seeds and slice into long wedges)
- 1/2 lb chestnuts – around 17-20 (I buy mine shelled with the fuzzy skin around it)
- 1 lb Brussels sprouts
- 1 medium red onion (peel, slice the ends off, slice in half, slice lengthwise from stem to root)
- 1 bulb garlic (keep unpeeled, trim a few mm off the ends to expose some of the garlic)
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- Chilli flakes to top (optional)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
- Start with preparing the chestnuts. Place them in a deep pan with water, bring to a boil and leave to boil for approximately 15-20 minutes. To make sure the chestnuts are cooked, take one out of the water, and carefully peel the skin off (don’t worry if the chestnut starts to break). The skin should peel off easily, and when the inside is soft and the colour a light brown (less yellow colour), it is ready. Drain the water out and place in a bowl and peel (discard the skin).
- Whilst the chestnuts are cooking, lay the sliced pumpkin across a lined or lightly oil baking tray, followed by the sliced onion. Lightly sprinkle all over with cinnamon, salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Use your hands to lightly rub into the pumpkin and onion. Nestle the garlic bulb in the middle and drizzle over with a little more olive oil.
- Roast for 40 minutes. Turn the pieces halfway through and roast for the rest of the time until fork tender.
- Take the pumpkin out and stir in the chestnuts, pop back into the oven and roast for a further 5 minutes. Remove from oven.
- Plate, sprinkle with a few pinches of salt and some chilli flakes and serve!