Ah, Halloween. We had an especially good and pumpkiny one this year. The afternoon was crisp and sunny, with tiny puffs of clouds and trees resplendent in their fall colors. Just the right sort of weather for getting together with family and carving jack-o-lanterns: elaborate, scary, traditional, and weird–all of them with faces only a mother could love.
Of course, the pumpkin seeds must be saved and washed. Soaked in a slosh of tamari and roasted until perfectly crisped. Then eaten by the handful.
We settled in for the evening with jack-o-lanterns aglow on the front step, a crackling fire in the fireplace, and a huge bowl of tiny candy bars by the door. A shocking number of Snickers bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups ended up in my tummy rather than in the bags of trick or treaters.
In spite of the pumpkin seeds and enough candy to approach epic, Augustus Gloop-level gluttony, I still had plenty of appetite for dinner. Inspired by Dorie Greenspan, I stuffed baby pumpkins with a mixture of stale bread, cheese, sausage, and mushrooms, soaked the filling in heavy cream, and left them in the oven for two hours while we curled up on the couch with the cat and a few more candy bars.
The pumpkins slowly softened, but did not slump. They held their shapes nicely, a perfect cauldron for the stuffing, which bubbled and become rich, gooey, and just a bit crispy on top.
When cut into wedges and served, the deep orange pumpkin flesh provided a smooth counterpoint to the chewy heft of the stuffing. A little of both in each bite was the way to go. And the smell—it was the scent of harvest dinner at the farm and steamy white tablecloth bistro, all at once.
Just because Halloween is over, it doesn’t mean that pumpkin season is past. As the evenings grow darker and colder, it is time for hearty, long-cooking meals. Put a few stuffed pumpkins in the oven, pour yourself a glass of wine, and settle into the couch for a couple of hours—whether with a book or a loved one, the important thing is to slow down, to savor this expectant pause, to just be.
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan)
These stuffed pumpkins are very quick and simple to prepare, and the ingredients quite forgiving—it is easy to adjust the elements to taste. A little more cheese, leave out the meat, add some additional vegetables, green chiles, or leftover brown rice–whatever strikes your fancy. I recommend not skimping on the cheese or the cream, however.
Makes 8 servings
- 2 pumpkins, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds each
- Approximately 6 cups stale bread, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 8 ounces Gruyere cheese, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1 link Andouille or other spicy sausage, cooked and crumbled (optional)
- 6 mushrooms, sliced thinly
- 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
- About 1 cup heavy cream
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the top of the pumpkin, and scoop out the guts and seeds, jack-o-lantern style. Season the inside of the pumpkins with salt and pepper and put them on a baking sheet or in a large casserole.
Mix all remaining ingredients together except the cream. Fill the pumpkins well, then pour a generous amount of cream into each.
With the tops back in place, bake the pumpkins for about 2 hours, 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. Remove the top during the last 20 minutes of baking so that the filling can brown. To serve, cut the pumpkin into wedges.