Like all good recipes, this one begins with a dream.
In my case, the dream of growing my own vegetables in a nightmare-future riddled with famine and desperation. The year of this dream was 2014, and at the time, California was in its third year of drought. (Fun fact: Two-thirds of America’s produce is grown in California.)
I’d read one too many stories about how precarious America’s food supply was and concluded that what my family needed to do was begin to grow our own food. Immediately. With only the rich wealth of agricultural experience my degree in literature and creative writing could provide. Despite the fact that I have never been able to keep as much as a geranium alive for more than six months, consecutively.
If we were lucky, I figured we’d be subsistent if not proficient farmers before I was back in skinny jeans.
What immediately followed this epiphany was lots and lots of research. From treatises on companion planting to discussions about seed patents, I ultimately fell down a vitamin-dense, pumpkin-laden rabbit hole of sweet-fleshed speckled hounds, white Casperitas, and most epic of all, the much-ballyhooed Long Island cheese pumpkin. If it came down to it, and I had to specialize, I realized that pumpkins could be a pragmatic, versatile food on which to focus. They’re vegetable, decoration, pie filling. The seeds are high in zinc and promote good prostate health.
“These are moschata squash, not watery pepo!” the cheese pumpkin literature exhorted. Sweet and nutrient-rich, filled with ancient wisdom and beta-carotene — frankly, they seemed to fall somewhere between ambrosia and the golden apples of Hesperides on the immortality-granting scale.
After a summer of only intermittently remembering to turn on the backyard sprinkler, however, I realized that it was probably best to leave agricultural pursuits to the professionals. This year, we purchased a half-share in our local CSA instead, and when we drove out recently to pick up some Casperitas and asters for the porch, my eyes landed on a true . . . field of dreams. Pumpkins, everywhere!
I knew immediately that I would have to procure a cheese pumpkin in order to make this Epicurious recipe for Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good — though I modified the ingredients and tripled most of the measurements since I was working with a larger vegetable. My pumpkin cooked up sweet, rich, and spoon-soft, while the creamy stuffing acted as a savory complement.
What follows below is my recipe. Marziah says she has also made this with rice for a gluten-free alternative; without meat, as a spectacular, vegetarian Thanksgiving main course; and with whatever she had lying around in the refrigerator for “clean out the fridge” night. I suspect that as long as you include pumpkin, cheese, cream, seasonings and a binder of some sort, you really cannot go wrong. Whatever other substitutions you make, understand that the nutmeg is a must!
Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good
- Long Island cheese pumpkin, about 8 lbs.
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 3/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyère, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 4 (or so) garlic cloves (to taste), coarsely chopped
- 3/4 lb sweet italian sausage, cooked and chopped
- About 1/2 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
- About 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/8 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg
- Turn the oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit) and move your rack to the middle of the oven. Now you’re faced with a choice: are you feeling lucky? Pull out your cookie sheet and throw a silicone mat on top. This is the STYLISH OPTION. Concerned about seepage? Pull out a dutch oven or casserole dish. This is the SAFE, BORING choice. Your call — just remember: choices matter.
- Find a knife you trust: sharp, sturdy. Cut a cap into your pumpkin. Make it wide enough so that you can get into the internal crannies of Mr. Punkin. Scoop out all of the seeds and guts (pro tip: think about Tom Hiddleston dancing, not that goopy, papier-mache art project that reduced you to gagging and tears in second grade). Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Throw the bread, cheese, garlic, meat, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with more pepper and pack. yer. punkin. If you don’t have enough stuffing, just throw in some more of whatever you’ve got extra of lying around. Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour that inta yer punkin, too. Your bread should be moistened but apparently not swimming. (Mmmmmm: swimming in cream…) Pop that punkin hat on top, and throw this baby into the oven.
- Let yer punkin cook for about 90 minutes, then remove his cap. Cook an additional 20-30 minutes so that the punkin juices can cook away. You should be able to spear your punkin easily through with a knife.
- Remove from oven and admire!
Remember what I said about choices mattering? If you’ve cooked your punkin on a cookie sheet, moving it will require care, but serving it is a dramatic, visual pleasure. Enjoy!