I love pumpkin. And pumpkins. When they first appear at the farmers market, all orange and heavy and round, I shift into autumn mode. Apples instead of peaches. Broccoli rabe instead of garden salad. Braising instead of grilling. I fire up the oven, abandoned since the first blistering hot day of summer.
With Thanksgiving a week away, we’re all thinking about pumpkin pie, of course. But the noble orb can do much more. You might not think about France when you think of pumpkins but they are all over the outdoor markets. In fact, the French probably eat pumpkin in many more variations than we do here in the New World. A search of Cuisine Actuelle’s recipes for potiron (one of the French words for pumpkin) turned up Quiche au Potiron, Gratin de Potiron, Velouté au Potiron, Tarte au Potiron, even Frites de Potiron.
Years ago I found a recipe in The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas (reprinted in 2014) for Stuffed Pumpkin. The idea was intriguing but the recommended stuffing, an eggplant risotto, was a bit odd in my opinion. The recipe was filed away. Last year I bought Dorie Greenspan’s brick of a book, Around My French Table (a wonderful collection—go out and buy it now!) and turning one of the pages, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a gorgeous stuffed pumpkin.
Dorie’s stuffing is a cheesy bread and bacon mixture that is a definite improvement over eggplant risotto. And it is sure to wow your guests.
This is the way it looks when Dorie makes it. (From epicurious.com)
And when I make it. Not too bad, eh?
I was very happy with her recipe, although next time I would add some caramelized onions to the stuffing mixture. The best thing about this is that it offers itself to endless variations. This week I‘m going to create something that embraces the spirit of Thanksgiving. Here’s my plan: to a base of mixed brown and wild rice I will add apples, sage sausage, and chestnuts. The pumpkins I bought this year are smaller and oblong-shaped so I plan to cut them in half lengthwise, roast the pumpkin halves first, then fill and roast them for about another 45 minutes. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Pumpkin Stuffed with Bread and Cheese (Adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table)
- 1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds, with a flat bottom
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 medium yellow onions
- I T. vegetable oil
- 2 T. butter
- 4 to 5 cups stale white bread, cut into 1/2-inch chunks (the amount will depend on the size of your pumpkin)
- 1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyère or Emmenthal, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped
- About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
- 1 T. minced fresh thyme
- 2 eggs
- 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.
- Using a very sturdy knife—and being very careful—cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (like a Jack-o-Lantern). 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.
- Peel the onions, then cut into large dice. Heat the oil and butter in a heavy bottomed pan large enough to hold the cut onions. Add the diced onions, turn heat to low, and gently stir the onions until they are soft and begin to caramelize. Remove from heat before they brown. Allow to cool slightly.
- In a large bowl combine the bread, cheese, bacon, onions, and herbs. Mix together the cream, eggs, and nutmeg and pour over the bread mixture. Stir to combine. Season lightly with salt and pepper, then pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be filled to the bottom of the opening. If needed, add some additional bread cubes and stir to incorporate with the rest of the mix. Basically, play it by ear and trust your judgment. You want a nice moist stuffing, not too dry, not swimming in liquid.
- Put the lid on the pumpkin and bake 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. Remove the lid during the last 20 minutes or so, so any excess liquid evaporate and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.
- When the pumpkin is done it will be heavy and wobbly. To serve, very carefully transfer it to a platter or a large cutting board and bring it to the table. You can either spoon out some of the filling with some of the pumpkin, or carve it into thick slices with the bread stuffing, as pictured. I like the second way—it’s a celebration of pumpkin on a plate.