When I was a kid I found winter squash revolting. Perhaps it was because the only winter squash my mom served was frozen Birdseye babycrap yellow squash. The squash came in a frozen rectangular cube, its consistency like baby food. Mom melted it down in a sauce pan and there it was, ready to (not) eat. I ate my Girl Scout bite (about 1 spoonful) and that was it. When my mom said, "But there are starving children in China who would love to eat this!" I answered, "Box it up and send it to them."
I eat winter squash now and usually love it, depending on how it's cooked. I even have an awesome spaghetti squash recipe I will share with you one of these days. I am a squash convert. Why? Maybe it's because I have a more grown up palate, or possibly it's because the squash I love hasn't been pureed within an inch of its life, frozen into a cube, then reheated.
Nonetheless, last year I heard a piece on NPR, National Public Radio, with Dorie Greenspan, the baker, reported by Michelle Norris. Without even seeing the stuffed pumpkin Dorie Greenspan was baking in Michelle's Washington, D.C. kitchen, I knew I had to try this recipe. That's how enticing the story was. Forget television, listen to the food stuff on NPR!
But I digress.
|My Stuffed Pumpkin: This doesn't have a lid because the pumpkin was a little soft on top when I went to cut it. The cows had the pumpkin's top for brunch.|
What I like about this recipe is Dorie's permission to be as free form as I want when making it. Since I live in the boonies and it's not easy to jet to the store for missing ingredients, I was in serious free form mode. My changes are in italics next to the ingredients.
Here's her recipe: (Note: The directions look long and involved, but it's because Dorie is talking and talking takes up space on the page. Think of it as your favorite cousin taking you through the recipe.)
Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good
1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds (I used a pie pumpkin, not a jack o lantern one)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (I used one slice of good sourdough and one old hot dog bun-what a gourmet!)
1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks (I used extra sharp Cheddar)
2–4 garlic cloves (to taste), split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped (As far as I know the germ was still in my garlic, but I didn't see a difference.)
4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped (I used 2 strips of extra thick bacon but I am thinking cooked pancetta would be good, too)
About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions (I used regular onions, finely chopped)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme (I used 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning)
About 1/3 cup heavy cream (I used half and half)
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment, or find a Dutch oven with a diameter that's just a tiny bit larger than your pumpkin. If you bake the pumpkin in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but it might stick to the casserole, so you'll have to serve it from the pot — which is an appealingly homey way to serve it. If you bake it on a baking sheet, you can present it freestanding, but maneuvering a heavy stuffed pumpkin with a softened shell isn't so easy. However, since I love the way the unencumbered pumpkin looks in the center of the table, I've always taken my chances with the baked-on-a-sheet method, and so far, I've been lucky.
Using a very sturdy knife — and caution — cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (think Halloween jack-o'-lantern). It's easiest to work your knife around the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle. You want to cut off enough of the top to make it easy for you to work inside the pumpkin. Clear away the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper, and put it on the baking sheet or in the pot. Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper — you probably have enough salt from the bacon and cheese, but taste to be sure — and pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well filled — you might have a little too much filling, or you might need to add to it. Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin. Again, you might have too much or too little — you don't want the ingredients to swim in cream, but you do want them nicely moistened. (But it's hard to go wrong here.)
Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours — check after 90 minutes — or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Because the pumpkin will have exuded liquid, I like to remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.
When the pumpkin is ready, carefully, very carefully — it's heavy, hot, and wobbly — bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you'll bring to the table.
You have choices: you can cut wedges of the pumpkin and filling; you can spoon out portions of the filling, making sure to get a generous amount of pumpkin into the spoonful; or you can dig into the pumpkin with a big spoon, pull the pumpkin meat into the filling, and then mix everything up. I'm a fan of the pull-and-mix option. Served in hearty portions followed by a salad, the pumpkin is a perfect cold-weather main course; served in generous spoonfuls or wedges, it's just right alongside the Thanksgiving turkey.
It's really best to eat this as soon as it's ready. However, if you've got leftovers, you can scoop them out of the pumpkin, mix them up, cover, and chill them; reheat them the next day.
This one is going on the Thanksgiving table and I bet that no one will want to box it up and send it to the starving Chinese children.