You can do more with a pumpkin than carve it and stick a candle in it — you can also stuff it, bake it and eat it all up.
That's what cookbook author Dorie Greenspan suggests in her new cookbook, Around My French Table. Greenspan says she loves her recipe "Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good" because it has "almost no rules."
"So you can play with it. You can change the filling a million different ways," she tells NPR's Michele Norris in Norris' Washington, D.C., kitchen. "We're going to use a stuffing of bread, bacon, garlic and cheese, but you could add spinach or chard, or once I used some leftover cooked rice in place of the bread. It became almost like risotto. You can put in nuts, you can put in apples ... you can put in chestnuts."
The possibilities depend on your imagination and your pantry, Greenspan says. And there's also a big payoff from this very simple recipe — one she says she almost missed.
"My wonderful friend Helene Samuel in Paris had told me about this
dish, and I thought, 'That's nice, that's nice,' and finally she said,
'You're not paying attention to me. This is a great dish. You have to
make it. I'm going to have my sister send you the recipe.' And her
sister lives in Lyon. And she said, 'Here's how I make it, but I'm sure
you'll make it a different way, and maybe you'll improve on it.' "
But there was one thing Greenspan couldn't improve on — the pumpkin.
"Her husband is a farmer, and he grows pumpkins. And when the pumpkins are very, very small, she goes into the fields with her children, and they carve their name in the pumpkins. And as the pumpkins grow, their names grow with the pumpkin, and then they each have their own pumpkin to make this dish."
Greenspan says the French tend to use pumpkins for savory dishes, not for sweet treats. But when she travels to France, she makes sure to pack at least one American convenience: canned pumpkin, which Greenspan says is impossible to find in Paris.
"Every recipe you see with a pumpkin puree starts with cutting the
pumpkin, roasting it and pureeing it. But when I want pumpkin muffins,
I want them now!" she laughs.
Makes 2 very generous servings1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds
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.
Greenspan's Stuffing Ideas
There are many ways to vary this arts-and-crafts project. Instead of bread, I've filled the pumpkin with cooked rice — when it's baked, it's almost risotto-like. And, with either bread or rice, on different occasions I've added cooked spinach, kale, chard, or peas (the peas came straight from the freezer). I've made it without bacon, and I've also made and loved, loved, loved it with cooked sausage meat; cubes of ham are another good idea. Nuts are a great addition, as are chunks of apple or pear or pieces of chestnut.
My colleague, Michele Hatty, likes to play in her kitchen when she isn't running things as Editor of Live Discussions at washingtonpost.com. She recently shared her newfound love for the sugar pumpkin (aka pie pumpkin). Below, her kitchen report -- and perhaps inspiration for last-minute Thanksgiving menus.
Friends joined my husband and me for dinner on a recent Saturday night, and their visit seemed like the perfect opportunity to try something I'd read on food writer Dorie Greenspan's blog: a stuffed pumpkin.
The concept is pretty simple: Take a 2-3 pound sugar pumpkin, cut a lid out the way you might with a jack-o-lantern and scoop out the seeds and strings. But then instead of carving a face in the little guy, stuff it with a mixture of bread, cheese and chopped garlic. Pour some heavy cream laced with nutmeg over the bread mixture, put the lid back on the pumpkin and roast the whole thing at 350 degrees for two hours. What you end up with is an egg-less, bread-and-cheese strata surrounded by tender, fragrant roasted pumpkin. In a word: sublime.
Greenspan notes that you can use just about any combination of bread and cheese. I used Italian bread and Parmigiano because that's what I had on hand. But I think gruyere or brie and French bread or even pumpernickel and white cheddar would be equally scrumptious. I also think my pumpkin may have been smaller than what was called for -- I used a pie pumpkin that was probably closer to one and a half pounds than three pounds. Regardless, it came out really well.
To serve, I used a sharp knife to cut the pumpkin into four parts and we each dove into our personal hunk of pumpkiny goodness, leaving only the pumpkin's skin on our plates by the end. A wonderful treat for a fall evening and one I plan to return to again and again in years to come. Yum!
As I mentioned, I bought my first pumpkin of the season last week and this is what Idid with it: I hollowed it out and stuffed it with bread cubes, cheese, garlic and cream, slid it into the oven to bake until everything under the cap bubbled away merrily and then served it for lunch.The idea for this dish came from my friend Catherine in France. Her husband has a farm just outside of Lyon and pumpkin is one of his crops. In true French fashion, Catherine sent me a charming sketch of a recipe and, after I made it, I realized that a sketch is about the best you can do with this tasty dish, since pumpkins come in such imprecise sizes, cheeses differ and baking times depend on how long it takes the pumpkin to get soft enough to prick with a knife. As Catherine said when she turned this family favorite over to me, "I hope you will put it to good use, knowing that it's destined to evolve -- and maybe even be improved." I hestitate to put what I did in recipe format, since it's hardly a real recipe, but it was so good that I want you to know about it while pumpkins are plentiful, so here it is:
A ROUGH RECIPE FOR A REALLY GOOD STUFFED PUMPKIN
Makes 2 generous or 4 genteel servings1 pumpkin, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Either line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat or find a Dutch oven that's the same diameter as the pumpkin. (If you bake the pumpkin in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but it will also stick to the casserole, so you'll have to serve it from the pot, which is a rustic, appealingly homey way to serve it. If you bake it on a sheet, you can present it free-standing, if it doesn't collapse in the oven. I was lucky this time, but when I make it again tonight with a larger pumpkin, I'm not going to push my luck - I'm going to put it in a Dutch oven.)
Using a very sturdy knife, cut a cap off the top of the pumpkin. This isn't an easy job - I went around the top of the pumpkin with my knife at a 45-degree angle to get a nice size cap. Clear away any seeds and strings from the cap and hold it aside while you scoop out the seeds and filaments inside the pumpkin. (Hold onto this goop -- you can separate the seeds from the filaments and roast them.) Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper and put it on the sheet or in the casserole.
Now you have a choice, you can either toss the bread, cheese and garlic together in a bowl, then pack it into the pumpkin, or you can alternate layers of bread and cheese and scatter the garlic here and there. (I mixed everything together.) Either way, the filling should go into the pumpkin and fill it well. You might have a little too much filling or you might need to add to it -- it's hard to give exact amounts. Season the cream with salt, pepper and several gratings of fresh nutmeg and pour the cream 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 to get a feeling that they're moistened.
Put the cap back in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours -- check after 90 minutes -- or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbly and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. I removed the cap during the last 20 minutes or so of baking so that the top could brown.
As you can see, I cut the pumpkin into wedges, so we could cut a cube of pumpkin and have it with some of the stuffing, but you can also leave the pumpkin whole and use a big spoon to scoop out pumpkin and filling. You could even scrape the pumpkin into the filling and mix it all up.
Caution: If you want to spoon out the pumpkin and the filling or try mixing it, you better bake the pumpkin in a casserole because you'll need to support the sides.
Playing around: I think you could play around with the filling, adding bacon or ham, herbs (a little thyme might be nice) or nuts.
If you make it, I hope you'll let me know what you did, how it came out and how you liked it. As Catherine said, the recipe is bound to evolve. It is, after all, a recipe-in-progress and having it be a communal recipe-in-progress can only make it better -- and more fun!
LAST NIGHT'S PUMPKIN: I made the pumpkin again last night, adding bacon that I'd cut into slender strips and cooked before mixing it in with the bread, cheese and garlic. I also added thyme and lots of snipped chives. It was so, so good, but here's what I think made the big difference -- the way I served it: I dug into the pumpkin with a big spoon, pulling the pumpkin meat into the filling and then mixing up everything. The consistency was like wonderfully chunky mashed potatoes. Served in hearty portions with or followed by a salad, the dish is a perfect cold-weather main course; served in spoonfuls, it's going to be great alongside our Thanksgiving's turkey.