Bellanico Puts Red Kuri Squash to Good Use

Chef Jonathan Luce shares a recipe for sformato and chicory insalata starring red kuri squash.


Photo by Lori Eanes

It’s a smooth, small, adorable squash with a supersaturated auburn color and quirky, teardrop shape—in short, more of a Pixar character about to come to life than a piece of nutritious produce. But with its manageable size and velvety flesh as rich and sweet as its Magic-Marker hue, red kuri squash—also called Hokkaido or Japanese squash—is a nourishing winner for rib-sticking winter soups, heartier salads and sides, and mains.

Chef Jonathan Luce of Italian favorite Bellanico in Oakland is a big fan. The restaurant, from husband-and-wife owners Chris Shepherd and Elizabeth Frumusa, is known for its authentic Italian cuisine and cozy, all-inclusive Glenview neighborhood feel. Luce was head chef at the former Pearl’s Oyster Bar in Rockridge before joining Shepherd and Frumusa to open Bellanico. The restaurant celebrates 10 years in March.

 “We still get discovered all the time,” smiled Luce.

In the colder months, Luce likes to use red kuri squash for Bellanico’s popular sformato—a savory, rustic, molded Italian specialty, crafted like a flan, often concealing a magical egg-yolk center. Look also for Luce’s tortelli di zucca, made with red kuri squash instead of pumpkin or butternut. In fact, if he had his way, pumpkin pie would be red-kuri-squash pie instead.

“It’s my favorite squash. The flesh itself is so smooth and creamy and with such a reliably good, deep orange color,” said the New England native who first cut his teeth at Brooklyn’s Al Di La Trattoria and Daniel Patterson’s former Elisabeth Daniel in San Francisco. “It’s not stringy, it’s not huge, it’s hollow, and the seeds are great toasted.”

It’s also great for you. Red kuri squash is a good source of vitamins A and C as well as potassium, iron, calcium, and fiber. At farmers markets, look for a bright, blemish-free squash that feels heavy and firm. Peel the skin and scoop the seeds out if desired, though both are edible.


Red Kuri Squash and Egg Yolk Sformato


1 small red kuri squash

1 medium russet potato

6 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup milk

2 eggs

Additional eggs, to be later separated for yolks, 1 per sformato

1/4 cup plain bread crumbs

Salt to taste


Olive oil


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the squash in half. Remove seeds, brush with olive oil, and place cut-side down on baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife. Let cool, remove skin, and cut into chunks.

Meanwhile, peel and place the whole potato into a pot of cold water. Bring water to a boil and cook until potato is tender, about 10-15 minutes. Cool and then push potato through a ricer (or chop fine).

In a small saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons of butter until foaming subsides. Add flour and whisk briskly and constantly to form a roux, about 1 minute. Gradually add milk, whisking until a smooth paste forms. Allow to cool.

In food processor, combine cooked squash, cooked potato, roux, 2 whole eggs, and bread crumbs and season generously with salt. Blend until smooth, about 30 seconds.

Generously grease desired number of 2-ounce ramekin molds with butter and fill each halfway with processed mixture. Using a spatula or spoon, create a small depression in each and fill with one separated, uncooked egg yolk. Gently cover each sformato with the remaining mixture until level at top of mold, scraping off excess with spatula.

In clean saucepan, allow 1-2 inches of water to come to a rapid boil (halfway up the sides of the molds). Carefully place the molds in boiling water and cover the saucepan. Continue boiling at high heat for 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

Carefully remove sformati from pan with tongs and allow to cool for 1 minute. Unmold onto separate plates and serve each with insalata of chicory topped with pomegranate seeds, shaved Grana Padano to taste, and leek vinaigrette.


For the Insalata

3 fresh heads of chicory, rinsed thoroughly and chopped fine

Seeds from 1 pomegranate

Grana Padano cheese, to be shaved to taste using a vegetable peeler


Set ingredients aside.


For the Vinaigrette

1 leek, washed thoroughly, white and light green parts chopped fine

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar

3/4 cup pure olive oil (extra virgin not recommended)



In small pan, sweat leeks in 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat until soft. Allow to cool. In food processor or blender, combine leeks, vinegar, and mustard until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil until blended. Season with salt to taste.

Serves 8-12 as a starter.

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