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The Last Pumpkins (For a While…)

I’ve been having a great fall teaching classes and testing out endless  butternut squash/apple/turnip/pear/carrot/sweet potato/parsnip/pumpkin combinations in soups, gratins, purees, and stew-like creations. I had a hard time deciding what to share with you before TurkeyDay, the biggest food event of the year.

But the other day I cracked open Dorie Greenspan’s brilliant new cookbook Around My French Table for the first time. This is exactly the book I wish I’d written. Like her perfect Baking from my Home to Yours, the recipes are simple, versatile and flavorful, and the pages are saturated with spectacular pictures and peppered with “bonne idées” – good ideas to make each recipe your own. She takes the mystery out of fabulous French cooking from the simplest home meal to the most intimidating pastries. And so many of her recipes have blunt, adorable names – Spur-of-the Moment Vegetable Soup, Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar.

But once I saw “Pumpkins Stuffed With Everything Good,” I knew I’d found my starting point. The concept, taken from generations of French home cooking, is sheer perfection: so cozy, beautiful, and delicious. As Dorie says, “an outline is about the best you can do with this dish” – because there’s so many ways you can, and often must, vary it. She says she never makes it the same way twice.

It’s sort of like a fondue, only you spoon out the contents not skewer them. The concepts all depend on what you like, and the best thing about it is that you can serve it as an appetizer or a side dish on the Thanksgiving table, perfect for all friends and family. You can even easily make it vegetarian if that’s what makes you happy.

Here’s what you have to do:

You take a bake-able pumpkin, like sugar or Cinderella and cut off the top

scoop out the stringy stuff and the seeds (to toast) (or caramelize)

then crush some garlic, and maybe chop some herbs

fill it with your favorite chunks of bread, cheeses, herbs and a bit of bacon or pancetta or similar if you like

Pour in some cream

And bake it!

That’s it! And this is what you get in the end…

Then you scoop this with some of the pumpkin meat on to small plates. Together with a good glass of white wine and you’re in heaven after one taste. I’m not exaggerating.

Full, concise recipe after the jump!

Pumpkins Stuffed with Everything Good – Our Way (Adapted from Dorie Greenspan)

1 sugar or Cinderella pumpkin, about 3 pounds *
¼ pound staled bread thinly sliced and cut into ½ inch chunks
¼ pound cheese, such as gruyere, Emmenthal (or any other swiss cheese), cheddar, smoked gouda, asiago, parmesan, or any combination, cut into ½ inch chunks
2-4 cloves of garlic pressed or minced
4-8 strips of bacon or pancetta cooked until crisp, crumbled
¼ cup crispy shallots (instead of bacon)
1/8-1/4 cup fresh chives or scallions
2 teaspoons or more of fresh herbs, your choice
1/3 cup or more of heavy cream

*You can easily use a larger pumpkin; Cinderella pumpkins actually tend to weigh more, so just double the recipe

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Sautee shallots until they are crispy (about 15 minutes)
3. Fry bacon or pancetta until crisp
4. Combine chunks of cheese and bread and season with pepper and a pinch of salt
5. Add bacon, pancetta, or crispy shallots (use only one) and combine
6. Add any herbs you choose, scallions (optional), and garlic. Toss well
7. Using a very sturdy knife, cut off the cap of the pumpkin, just as you would a jack-o-lantern
8. Scoop out the stringy pumpkin and the seeds and generously salt the inside of the pumpkin
9. Pack tightly the filling into the pumpkin; there shouldn’t be any air pockets
10. Pour in cream until the bread mixture is moistened and there is a bit of liquid on top (do not have the bread “swimming” in heavy cream)
11. Put the cap back on and bake until the pumpkin is soft, about 60-90 minutes. Check the pumpkin after 45 minutes to see how soft it is. Continue baking until the ingredients are bubbling and the meat of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced with a fork. Do not let burn; the pumpkin will turn black as it cools and start to collapse. You don’t want all your good work ruined.
12. Place a large spatula under your creation and move it gently to a beautiful platter.
13. Serve as a side dish or an appetizer on small plates.

And when you have leftover goodness (which you almost definitely will), just stuff it in ramekins. Or if it’s the middle of February and your pumpkin supplier has run out of pumpkins (which they almost definitely will) just make these instead.

Ramekins with Leftover Goodness

Contents of bread/cheese filling (see recipe above)
6-12 ramekins (depending on how much filling you have)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Fill ramekins with your favorite combination of cheeses , 1-inch chunks of bread, and crumbled bacon as noted in the stuffed pumpkin recipe above
3. Add a teaspoon or so of herbs if you like (i.e., rosemary or thyme)
4. Bake until bubbling, about 20 minutes
5. Serve as a starter with a very small salad of mixed greens.

Written by Heide

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