[This article was written by Chris Bryant last fall. We love it so much that we wanted to share it again this fall, timed perfectly for the chill autumn nights that are now visiting many of us in the northern hemisphere. Enjoy!]
Last fall Dorie Greenspan’s Stuffed Pumpkin With Everything Good recipe was drifting through the food world like a perfect fall leaf that suddenly draws everyone’s attention. Since then it has been embraced as a celebration of fall, of hearth & home, and cozy winter fare. Seasonal food celebrators and foodies took note and it became viral. I tracked it floating through the food universe from my favorite radio food shows to magazines to blog posts to radio interviews.
Dorie Greenspan is a cookbook author who lives in New York City, Connecticut, and Paris. I know, a wretched existence. Her 2010 cookbook, Around My French Table, came out last fall and the now famous stuffed pumpkin was its showcase recipe (although Greenspan and her fans were talking about it as far back as 2006).
There’s a really interesting story about a French family and pumpkins that inspired Greenspan to adopt and adapt the recipe. You should hear her tell the story and explain the recipe, which is actually not so much a recipe as “an art project” as Greenspan describes it. Here are two renditions, one is an NPR All Things Considered interview from host Michele Norris’s kitchen, another from KCRW’s Good Food with Evan Kleiman, my favorite radio food show and podcast. They are each about 6-7 minutes. If you don’t have time for both, catch the NPR interview.
Have you listened? If so you know the broad concept for how to make and bake a stuffed pumpkin. Doesn’t it sound simple? And interesting? I was immediately compelled to try and it will forever be in my repertoire of cold weather favorites.
MY PUMPKIN FEASTS
I now stuff a lot of pumpkins throughout fall and winter. I stuff small ones just for me and my partner Skip and I stuff large ones for pot lucks and family feasts. I pretty much do mine like Greenspan except I do not add bacon, or any meat for that matter. I love meat but I don’t think it needs any. I do sometimes add smoked gouda or cheddar, which adds a hint at baconness.
A stuffed pumpkin dinner is the simplest meal yet it has the charm of a magical feast. All you need is a salad. I make what I call a bitter salad, a mix of endive, escarole, and if available, arugula, tossed with a tart mustardy vinaigrette. Sometimes I add apple or pear slices and always I add pickled onions (paper-thin onion slices submerged in vinegar, sugar, and salt, topped with ice cubes for at least 15 minutes). The salad is where I’d welcome bacon.
The open-for-improvisation preparation encourages individuality. My personal touch is caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms. I used to add onions and scallions raw but now I prefer for them to be sautéed to refine and intensify their flavors.
A STUFFER’S LOG
Here are some notes and proportions I follow based on a 3-ish-pound pie pumpkin, which yields 2-3 servings. Greenspan’s formula is similar, and also a bit more precise. You should compare.
In my estimation the best pumpkin is a Long Island Cheese (actually a squash), also called a Cheese Pumpkin. Similar in color and texture to butternut squash, they have a dusty orange skin and dense, sweet, not stringy flesh. Cheese pumpkins are wider than tall and really do look like a wheel of cheese. Seek them out. I buy them in a range of sizes from my local farmers and store on cardboard in a dark, dry corner of the basement. They’ll stick around until about March. Depending on a wide range of sizes, they can yield from 5 to 12 servings.
Pie pumpkins are also excellent. They’re very sweet and come in sizes from a single serving mini up to a 4–5 pounder that yields 5-6 servings. Red Kuri squash and kumbuchi squash are good stuffers.
Use a well-textured bread, or breads (old bread is great). Sprinkle cubes with garlic powder (or fresh) and toss with a splash of olive oil. Toast under broiler, turning often, or toss in skillet, until warmed and just beginning to brown. Pull from heat before they become crunchy croutons.
Classic is Gruyere and I always include some in the mix. Sharp Vermont cheddar or Gouda, usually smoked, are favorites and I look forward to adding a bit of bleu some day. This is a delicious opportunity to use up ends and bits from the cheese drawer.
I judge the amount of cheese to add from this ratio: 1 part cheese to 3 or 4 parts bread, depending on the moment’s decadence tolerance. That’s 4–5 ounces cheese for our pumpkin. I either coarse-grate or cut into cubes, depending on the cavity size (smaller pumpkin, grated; large one, cubed).
Use heavy cream. Really. We’re not talking about a lot. Here’s how I judge how much. Once the cavity is stuffed with the bread mixture I pour enough cream into the cavity to fill it halfway. Start by measuring out 1/3 cup of cream. Mix into that some nutmeg (just a pinch, 4-5 gratings), dried or fresh thyme and/or sage, and a generous amount of coarse-ground black pepper. Add salt at this point, between ¼ and 1/2 teaspoon.
I use whatever variety of mushrooms I can round up—button, crimini, porcini, and especially shiitakes, which are most flavorful. I quickly sauté them until just wilted in a little butter and a good dash of white pepper. For our recipe I use at least 4–6 ounces, but more is more.
the CARAMELIZED ONIONS
Here’s a bonus recipe. Double or triple it and keep in the fridge or freezer for omelets, mashed potatoes, pizzas, sandwiches, etc.
1-2 medium onions, cut into slivers
3-4 cloves garlic, diced
1-2 Tbl butter
1-2 tsp sugar
1/2–2/3 cup wine, ale, or water
Salt and black pepper
Melt butter then add onions, garlic, and sugar. Slowly sauté on medium until light golden brown. Add liquid, salt, and white pepper. Simmer until liquid evaporates and onions begin to sauté again, 2-3 minutes. Push onions into a pile then stir and flip frequently until deep caramel color is achieved, 5-10 minutes.
Guesstimate how much stuffing you need by filling the empty pumpkin with water then pouring into measuring cup. Prepare your ingredients then toss together bread, cheese, onions, and mushrooms. Fill pumpkin with bread mixture and pour in cream. Better to under-fill than overfill because the pumpkin exudes liquid and too much volume might cause it to split (has happened to me, not a big deal).
Bake in a deep pie dish, skillet, or Dutch oven. Place cap on pumpkin and cook 1 hour covered. Take off lid and rest against outside of pumpkin and continue baking 30-50 minutes longer, checking occasionally for doneness. When done, the outside becomes soft and yields to pressure. You can also scoop some flesh from inside to see if it’s velvety and tasty. If unsure, better to overcook than undercook.
Remove pan from oven and allow pumpkin to rest at least 20 minutes before moving or serving. I serve from the baking dish but you can transfer to a platter. This takes some mindful maneuvering because the pumpkin is usually somewhere between a solid and a custard. Have your platter close by.
You can make an hour or two ahead and reheat in the microwave. For pot lucks I make large pumpkins a day ahead, refrigerate, then reheat in the oven 30 minutes at 350 and finishing in microwave if necessary.
You can serve two ways. At home I slice through the pumpkin, pie-fashion, and serve wedges. For pot lucks—really large pumpkins—I scoop along the inside against the skin with a wide mixing spoon to loosen the flesh into long ribbons then instruct folks to scoop from the center outwards. Some pumpkins cook drier than others, if filling isn’t creamy enough drizzle with more cream or some milk.