True to his focus on “grain-and-vegetable centric, globally inspired cuisine,” chef-owner Travis Lett’s new book, “Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California,” follows on the success of its namesake restaurant, GTA and sister spot, Gjusta. Featuring many of the seasonal SoCal-inspired salads, toast, pizza, mains and dessert recipes that have made his neighborhood spots a favorite among locals and a destination for many out-of-towners, this cookbook is sure to become a kitchen staple for many.
Japanese kabocha squash is a winter favorite. Grilled, roasted or steamed, its sweet, nutty flavor is intensified when seasoned with a bit of flaky sea salt and olive oil. If you can’t find it, red kuri squash has an identical flavor but a more delicate skin, making it an excellent substitute.
In this Gjelina recipe, kabocha is roasted until it’s softened, then slapped on a grill pan to char the edges. If you make the pesto in advance, this dish is very easy to pull together. This grilled kabocha can be enjoyed on its own or together with rich meats such as duck, rabbit, pigeon or even goat. You can also be serve it alongside wild rice and wilted broccoli rabe leaves.
The versatile Mint-Pomegranate Pesto is a nice accompaniment to all sorts of dishes. Travis likes to serve it with strongly flavored cuts of lamb, such as braised neck and shank, as well as on duck and chicken. It also pairs well with other sweet-fleshed, roasted fall vegetables.
Gjelina’s Grilled Kabocha Squash with Mint-Pomegranate Pesto
1 kabocha or red kuri squash, halved across the equator and seeded
¼ cup (60 ml) water
2 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup (120 ml) Mint-Pomegranate Pesto (recipe follows below)
Flaky sea salt
For the squash: Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
Place the squash halves, cut-side down, in a large roasting pan. Add the water, cover with aluminum foil and roast until the squash has softened, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the squash to a platter or cutting board to cool. Cut the cooled halves into thirds. (Note: the kabocha can be stored in the refrigerator before serving for up to a day.)
Heat a large grill pan over high heat.
Drizzle the squash pieces with the olive oil, turning to coat, and season with kosher salt and pepper. Cook the squash pieces until well-charred, about 5 minutes. Resist the urge to meddle. The pieces will release easily from the pan once they begin to blacken. Turn the pieces over and cook on the other side until charred, 3 to 4 minutes longer.
To serve: Transfer to a serving platter, spoon the pesto on top, and season with sea salt. Serve warm.
Pomegranate molasses can be found in Middle Eastern markets. It brings a little sweetness to the pesto and balances the acidity. Add the lime juice just before serving to keep it from discoloring the mint.
Yield: Makes 1½ cups (300 grams)
1 cup (30 g) fresh mint, chopped
⅓ cup (55 g) pomegranate seeds
1 tbsp shallot, minced
1 cup (240 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp lime zest, finely grated
1 garlic clove
Instructions: In a small bowl, combine the mint, pomegranate seeds, shallot, olive oil, pomegranate molasses, Parmesan and lime zest. Using a Microplane grater to grate the garlic into the mixture, stirring to combine. Season with salt. Allow to stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
To serve: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Bring the Pomegranate Pesto to room temperature (do not heat), and stir in the lime juice just before serving.