Monday, November 16, 2009

Pie Pumpkins Aren't Just for Pies

It’s easy to forget that pumpkin is really just another kind of squash, we’re so used to it being a dessert food—pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin spice latte. But this fall, Len and I have been tasting a full range of rich pumpkin flavors. If you think you don’t like pumpkin, maybe you just don’t like sweet pumpkin things. This seasonal staple tastes quite different under different circumstances, and I encourage you to try some savory recipes before you completely write it off.

Yes, I had the pumpkin latte from Starbucks. We didn’t even wait until Thanksgiving to eat a wonderful pumpkin pie because Len already baked one from scratch. He also made pumpkin bread. And, of course, we carved a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween and toasted its seeds. (And you know we saved some seeds for the garden, but that’s not relevant to food... Yet.) But our first more adventuresome pumpkin dish this fall was a pumpkin and Swiss chard lasagna recipe from I was in love after the first bite. More recently, a friend passed a stuffed pumpkin recipe around the office. Len was skeptical when I first showed it to him, but after tasting it, he has added pumpkin to the grocery list so we can make it again.

Stuffed pumpkin is a centuries-old and easy comfort food. You can make the stuffing very simple with bread and butter, or you can jazz it up with garlic, onions, sausage or fruit. We went simple and got a delicious, soul-warming pumpkin dinner. It could also be a side dish, but it’s heavy, so I would suggest a very simple meat entree.

All you need:
  • A pie pumpkin or any small orange pumpkin (ours was 4 lbs.)
  • A flavorful melting cheese like Gruyere, grated or cut into small chunks (I used a mixture of goat cheese and asiago just because they are what I had in the fridge)
  • Some stale bread, cubed (or some toasted cubes of fresh bread)
  • Cream or evaporated milk (I used about 1 cup for our 4-lb. pumpkin)
  • Seasoning: salt, black pepper, white pepper and nutmeg

Preheat your oven to 375. Cut a lid out of the top of your pumpkin and set it aside. Scrape out the seeds and strings from inside the pumpkin. Lightly season the inside with salt and pepper. Then toss the bread cubes and cheese into the pumpkin in rough layers. Press the layers down a little to really stuff it! In a bowl, gently mix the cream with a little white pepper and nutmeg, then pour it over the bread inside the pumpkin. Set the pumpkin in an oven-safe dish, put its “cap” back on, and bake it for about an hour and a half. The pumpkin will become soft to the touch, and its skin will brown. Take its top off and bake it about 15-20 minutes more, so the cheese inside gets nice and bubbly.

After you remove the pumpkin from the oven, it will keep its heat for awhile, especially if you put its lid back on, so you can serve immediately or let it stand while you finish up any other dishes.

To serve, cut the pumpkin into wedges and serve each wedge scooped with some of the stuffing. The pumpkin’s skin will peel right off. Don’t forget you can eat the cooked flesh on the underside of the lid, too!

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