Kabocha-Ham Croquettes

I dreamed this up when I wanted to combine ham and kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) to make something hot, hearty, and slightly self-indulgent to help get me through a particularly cold and dreary day. The croquettes are crispy on the outside, soft and moist on the inside, and brightened up with yuzu ponzu (find it at your local Asian market—the flavor is amazing, so don’t cheat yourself). I recommend putting some sliced Napa cabbage on the side, dressed with an aioli of Japanese mayonnaise, yuzu paste, and rice wine vinegar.

Note: If you don’t have access to kabocha, a squash like acorn squash will work just fine.

Ingredients:

¼ cup milk

¼ cup flour

Panko, for dredging

1 lb kabocha (you’ll probably have to buy a larger kabocha, use what you need, and put the rest away for another dish)

¾ lb ham, cut into 1” chunks

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

1 tsp sage

¼ tsp nutmeg

¼ tsp ginger powder

½ TBSP garlic powder

Vegetable oil, for frying

Scallions, finely chopped, for garnish

Yuzu ponzo, for serving

Instructions:

Mix together the milk and flour in one dredging bowl, and in a second dredging bowl, pour in panko and moisten it very slightly with a few drops of water. Set aside.

Poke holes in the kabocha with a knife tip and put into the microwave for 3-4 minutes on high to allow it to soften. Cut the kabocha in half and scrape out the seeds, then cut into long crescent slices and use a sharp knife to cut off the skin. Cut the crescents into 2-3 inch cubes and place in a microwave safe container with a damp paper towel covering it; microwave on high for another 2 minutes, or until a fork easily passes through the flesh. Put the kabocha into a food processor and pulse a few times, until it is roughly shredded, but not puréed.

In a large bowl, mix together the kabocha, ham, parmesan, eggs, and seasonings. Measure out half-cup portions onto a cutting board, toss from hand to hand to so as to press the air out and form a solid ball, and then form them into patties. Dip each patty into the milk mixture, then into the panko, coating well.

Pour vegetable oil into a frying pan to a depth of ½ inch. Heat to medium high heat—you’ll know the oil is ready when tiny bubbles come off of the tip of a plain chopstick when dipped. Gently a few patties at a time to the oil—don’t overcrowd! You may need to work in batches. Cook for 1 minute on each side, or until golden brown, then remove to drain on a wire rack. Then, fry each patty again for 30 seconds to get it extra crispy; drain again on the rack.

Serve immediately, garnished with finely chopped scallions and sprinkled with ponzu.

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