Thanksgiving has snuck up on me again. I was at the farmer's market last week, when the farmer I buy my eggs from, Busy B's Market, reminded me to be sure to be there next week to pick up the turkey I had ordered for this week. I turned and said, "Really?" I thought it was still early in the month. Apparently not. I was down to just a week to figure out a menu for Thanksgiving and make plans for Justin's parents visit for the holiday. Wow. This month went fast.
Thankfully, I know at least one think I will be making aside from the aforementioned turkey (an heirloom variety I plan to roast with spice rub treatment). This pumpkin will be the showstopper. I made this baked, stuffed pumpkin for the first time a few weeks ago, and have wanted to tell you about it ever since. I loved this. And it looks amazing. It isn't hard to do either.
The most complicated part is opening the pumpkin and gutting it. But anyone who has prepped a pumpkin for carving knows how to do that, it is not hard. Never mind, that I made it harder for myself when I choose a especially thick-walled pumpkin. If you stick to a standard pie pumpkin, it will be easier. Although the blue pumpkin was delicious and beautiful, I'm going with a pie pumpkin for Thanksgiving, its thinner walls will carve up easier and bake faster.
This recipe is extremely flexible. Change the fillings to suit your taste: nuts, (cooked) rice instead of bread is like a glorious risotto and gluten-free, roasted peppers, greens, pears or a change in cheeses I made this one with chunks of bread, Gruyere cheese, fresh thyme, three strips of crumbled bacon, and diced apple. This is a dish where you really don't need the meat, but if you opt for it, a little goes a long way, so choose something flavorful and in a small quantity. For Thanksgiving I am going with less cheese, onion, some celery, raisins, and the classic stuffing herbs: sage, thyme, and marjoram. This year I'm not stuffing the turkey, but the pumpkin. For all the vegetarians out there, go this way instead of the the tofurky. This is the grandest non-meaty centerpiece I have found yet, and everyone will love it, vegetarian or not.
Baked, Stuffed Pumpkin (Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good)
from Around My French Table
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 Gruyere, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2–4 garlic cloves (to taste), split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
4 strips bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped
About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
About 1/3 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, 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. (Personally, we just cut the pumpkin in wedges and refrigerated and reheated the next day, and it was good, no scooping or mixing).