Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

Now, I know that I’ve been quite the delinquent lately.  For this, I apologize.  But you didn’t think I’d let the week before Thanksgiving go by without so much as a peep, did you?  There are too many fabulous food-related things to talk about this week, too many recipes that would be just perfect to contribute to Thanksgiving dinner this year, too many opportunities to indulge in fantasies having to do with things like maple-flavored whipped cream and deep-fried turkey and cinnamon-laced something-or-other.

I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving at our house always consists of the exact same dishes.  Same turkey.  Same stuffing. Same vegetables.  This is in no way a bad thing.  In fact, that’s kind of how I like my Thanksgiving dinner. These are dishes that have been honed over the past 25 years, until they are now at the point where they are about as perfect as can be.  I don’t want to imagine a Thanksgiving without my dad’s broccoli cheese rice casserole, or my grandma’s cranberry relish.  Thanksgiving would be somehow less Thanksgiving-y without them.Of course, there have been times over the years when we’ve half-hearted attempts to “try something new”.  The only problem with this is that when we find something we like and decide it deserves much sought-after real estate on our Thanksgiving trouble, we have a hard time letting go of any other dish.  For instance, several years ago, we decided to try to make a sweet potato casserole instead of the tried and true “top secret” recipe.  Of course, at the last minute, we had a change of heart and decided to make both, just in case.  The new casserole was delicious, but we all still loved the old baked ones, too.  So now we make both.  Twenty five years of these kind of addition, suffice it to say, left us with a family of 15, tops, and enough food to feed 50.  Leftovers, anyone?

When I first saw this recipe, my thoughts went immediately to how beautiful a large pumpkin, steaming and hot from the oven, would look on our Thanksgiving table.  I mean, it just makes sense. The whole idea of a stuffed pumpkin is decidedly impressive, if you ask me.  And the list of things to stuff it with reads like on of those food-centric fantasies I was talking about before: smoky swiss cheese, thick-cut bacon, fresh herbs, crusty bread, green onions… need I go on?

I probably don’t even need to tell you that by the time I had finished reading the recipe, I was in love.  I needed to make it.  And seeing as this was some time ago, I couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving.  But that was perfect, I thought, because I could make it once as a trial run, then again on Thanksgiving.  Yes, that’s right- I thought I was going to make something new on Thanksgiving. I had made up my mind before ever even trying this whole stuffed-pumpkin thing.  What can I say?  I was young and in love.

Putting the whole thing together was fairly easy.  Now when I say easy, that doesn’t exactly mean quick.  There’s a bit of prep involved, at least the way that I made it.  Frying and crumbling bacon, chopping up everything else, carving and scooping out a pumpkin… none of these things are the least bit complex or difficult, but they take a little time.  And use some extra dishes.  No biggie.  You may have to adjust your oven racks a little bit… and you probably won’t be able to cook anything else in your oven at the same time.  For, um… two hours, or longer, until the pumpkin is done.

Ok, so all of a sudden, this wasn’t looking like the best choice for Thanksgiving.  Oven space is at a premium with all those casseroles, etc, and the turkey has free reign over the extra oven in the basement.  Alas, my dreams of adding to our Thanksgiving menu were crushed.

But I wasn’t sad for long, because I realized that it doesn’t matter what day it is, this pumpkin is delicious.  It’s kind of an awesome fall meal in itself, kind of like a one pot meal, where the pot itself is edible.  The filling is almost like a savory bread pudding, studded with tasty bits of bacon, cheese, and green onion.  When you scoop it out, you pull out some of the soft, tender pumpkin along with it, and the flesh of the pumpkin takes on the fragrance of the garlic and herbs.  Best of all, it was totally unique from anything I’ve had before, and it had a bit of novelty about it.

Sigh.  It would have been perfect for Thanksgiving.  But maybe one of you will make it?  One of you with one of those fancy double or triple ovens and families that will let you make it instead of stuffing, or the sweet potatoes, or both?  It’ll make me feel better knowing that at least someone will be eating this on Thanksgiving.  Although, I admittedly won’t need much consoling after I’m through with our Thanksgiving feast- I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table

This recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.  In the forward for the recipe, she explains that this recipe is more like a guideline, because the recipe is infinitely adaptable.  For instance, she suggests substituting rice for the bread, and maybe some crumbled sausage for the bacon.  Sounds like a good idea to me!

1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1/4 pound cheese, such as Smoked Swiss

4 garlic cloves (to taste), coarsely chopped

4 slices applewood-smoked bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped

About 1/4 cup sliced scallions

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

About 2/3 cup heavy cream

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.  Alternatively, you could bake the pumpkin in a dutch oven, pot or casserole, if it makes you feel a little safer.

Using a very sturdy knife, cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin, like you would if you were carving a Jack-o-lantern.  It’s easiest to work your knife around the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle. 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 salt and pepper 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. You want everything to be moist- add more cream if the 2/3 cup isn’t enough, or don’t add it all in if things get soupy.

Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours, checking 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,  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 up.

When the pumpkin is ready, very carefully bring it to the table or transfer it to a platter that you’ll bring to the table.  To serve, scoop out filling with a serving spoon, making sure to scoop into pull out the flesh of the pumpkin, too.

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