Pumpkins aren’t just meant for pie or playful evisceration. They are also a vegetable, a squash, and can therefore be eaten.
The question is: How? How to best eat a pumpkin?
The other questions is: Why? Pumpkins don’t taste particularly good. Why would you want to eat them?
The answer is: Not all pumpkins are created equal. Smaller pumpkins are often delicious and are reminiscent of other winter squash. It’s the larger jack-o’-lantern type of pumpkins that give all the other pumpkins a bad reputation, at least in terms of texture and flavor.
So I decided to do something about it. I decided to take some pumpkins, stuff them full of other things, and then roast them.
It’s not an idea I had by myself. In 2010, the highly regarded food writer Dorie Greenspan included a recipe for stuffed pumpkin in her cookbook “Around My French Table,” and they have been a popular dish since then.
So I started with Greenspan’s groundbreaking recipe — though the idea was not original with her, either; people have been stuffing pumpkins for decades.
As with three of the recipes I made, I used pie pumpkins for this dish. Pie or sugar pumpkins, which are always labeled such, have the best flavor of all pumpkins. They are sweet, but only a little, and the mild sweetness merely adds a hint of intrigue to a savory dish.
Each of the recipes uses a starch to help fill out the pumpkin. In Greenspan’s inelegantly named Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good, the starch is stale bread. It is used as the foundation for layers of other flavors: cheese, garlic, bacon or sausage — optional, if you want to keep it vegetarian — scallions, thyme, cream and a touch of nutmeg.
Those ingredients are satisfying enough as they are, but don’t forget the additional taste of pumpkin. A chunk of pumpkin in every bite makes a good meal better.
Next, I roasted a pumpkin stuffed with shepherd’s pie. That’s really all you need to know: It’s shepherd’s pie inside a roasted pumpkin. If you kind of squint your taste buds, it is somewhat like eating moussaka, with pumpkin replacing the eggplant. And while pumpkin tastes nothing at all like eggplant, it also kind of does.
I used ground beef for my shepherd’s pie, but ground lamb, I imagine, would be just as good.
The next dish I made uses a large pumpkin — or at least large for a pie pumpkin — five or six pounds. It’s good for a substantial meal, which is why it’s called Stuffed Pumpkin Dinner. People who are tired of turkey have been known to make it for Thanksgiving.
The starch this time is rice (in the shepherd’s pie recipe, it is mashed potatoes). The rice is mixed with ground beef, onions, green pepper and tomato sauce, so basically it is a chopped-up stuffed pepper stuffed into a pumpkin, with a few twists.
The biggest twist is the way it is cooked. Because the pumpkin is larger, the stuffing inside will be overcooked by the time the pumpkin is cooked through. So to remedy that, you steam the pumpkin for 30 minutes to soften the exterior before stuffing and baking it.
It works like a charm.
My favorite of the four stuffed-pumpkin dishes did not use pie pumpkins; it used mini pumpkins, which are just a couple of inches tall.
These are stuffed with baby kale, breadcrumbs (that’s the starch), cheese, scallions, garlic, pine nuts and more, all moistened (or more) with heavy cream. The small pumpkins are wonderfully tender when cooked, and a little sweet. Or at least they aren’t bitter.
Whatever. They taste wonderful, a little bit nutty, with the unbeatable combination of kale (or spinach, if you prefer), cheese and cream. The pine nuts add a toasty crunch.
Most people use mini pumpkins for decoration. But if you stuff a few and roast them, you’ll have a side dish worth celebrating at the most celebratory time of the year.
PUMPKIN STUFFED WITH EVERYTHING GOOD
Makes 2 to 4 servings
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 Gruyère, Emmenthaler, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/3 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment.
2. Using a very sturdy knife — and caution — cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin as you would a jack-o’-lantern. 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 prepared baking sheet.
3. Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, chives (or scallions) and thyme together in a bowl. Season with pepper (add salt, if you are not using the bacon) and pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well filled; you may have too much mix, or too little. Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the pumpkin.
4. 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. 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.
5. When the pumpkin is ready, bring it to the table with care — it’s heavy, hot and wobbly.
Per serving (based on 4 servings): 451 calories; 25 g fat; 12 g saturated fat; 58 mg cholesterol; 18 g protein; 42 g carbohydrate; 11 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 620 mg sodium; 303 mg calcium
Slightly adapted from a recipe in “Around My French Table,” by Dorie Greenspan
SHEPHERD’S PIE STUFFED PUMPKIN
Yield: 8 servings
1 large or 2 small pie pumpkins
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 pounds ground beef or lamb
1 onion, minced
2 cups chopped mushrooms (optional)
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups chicken or beef broth
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cups frozen pea-carrot medley, thawed (optional)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup half-and-half
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cover potatoes with water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Cut top of pumpkin to create a lid, as you would with jack-o’-lanterns. Clean out seeds with a spoon, scraping the insides down to the pulp. Set aside.
4. While potatoes are cooking, brown meat in large pan over medium heat, breaking meat up with a spoon, until meat is cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain, reserving 2 tablespoons fat.
5. Add reserved fat back to pan, and heat on medium. Add onion, mushroom (if using) and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until flour is incorporated, about 1 minute.
6. Whisk in broth, thyme and Worcestershire sauce into onion mixture, scraping pan as you go, and bring to a simmer. Return meat to pan and cook over medium-low heat until sauce is thickened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Test for flavor and add salt and pepper to taste. Add peas and carrots into mixture, if using.
7. Drain potatoes, return to hot pot and mash until smooth. Stir in butter, then half-and-half. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
8. Rub the inside of the pumpkins with salt. Fill pumpkins 2/3 full with meat mixture. Fill pumpkins to bottom of opening with mashed potatoes. Replace tops of pumpkins. Place pumpkins on prepared baking sheet.
9. Bake in oven for approximately 90 minutes or until pumpkin “gives” when you squeeze the sides. It may take longer than 90 minutes depending on the size of the pumpkin.
10. If you would like to brown the mashed potatoes, broil them for 3 to 5 minutes with the pumpkin lid removed.
Per serving: 366 calories; 20 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 68 mg cholesterol; 19 g protein; 22 g carbohydrate; 26 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 522 mg sodium; 62 mg calcium
Recipe from prettyprudent.com
STUFFED PUMPKIN DINNER
Yield: 8 servings
1 large pie pumpkin (5 1/2 to 6 pounds)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup finely chopped fully cooked ham or sausage
2 eggs, beaten
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash pumpkin and cut out a 6-inch lid, as you would with a jack-o’-lantern. Discard seeds and loose fibers from inside. Place pumpkin in a large Dutch oven. Fill Dutch oven with boiling water to a depth of 6 inches; add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is almost tender but holds its shape. Carefully remove and drain well; pat dry.
2. In a large skillet, cook the beef, onion and green pepper over medium heat until meat is no longer pink and vegetables are tender; drain well. Cool slightly; place in a large bowl. Add rice, tomato sauce, ham, eggs, garlic, oregano, pepper, vinegar and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine thoroughly.
3. Place pumpkin in a shallow, sturdy baking pan. Firmly pack beef mixture into pumpkin; replace top. Bake for 1 hour. Let stand for 10 minutes. Remove the top; if desired, use paper towel to remove excess moisture from top of meat. Slice pumpkin into wedges.
Per serving: 281 calories; 5 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; 105 mg cholesterol; 27 g protein; 34 g carbohydrate; 11 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 377 mg sodium; 92 mg calcium
Recipe from Taste of Home
STUFFED BABY PUMPKINS
Yield: 6 servings
6 mini pumpkins, preferably the white variety
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for the shells
1/8 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for the shells
2 tablespoons butter
2 scallions (about 1/3 cup), chopped
1 large garlic clover, finely chopped
4 cups baby kale or stemmed and roughly chopped lacinato (Tuscan) kale (about 4 ounces)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup white breadcrumbs, lightly toasted
2/3 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup heavy cream
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash the pumpkins. With a small, sharp knife, remove the tops as if for a jack-o’-lantern. Scoop out the seeds and stringy insides with a spoon, leaving the flesh intact. Rinse, then rub with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.
2. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat, add the scallions and cook for a few minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute or so, until fragrant. Add the kale and cook until it just wilts, about 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice and transfer to a bowl.
3. Add the breadcrumbs, cheese, pine nuts, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Mix well, then stir in cream.
4. Divide the filling into the pumpkins and replace the tops. Line a baking dish with parchment paper (or brush with 1 tablespoon olive oil) and arrange the filled pumpkins in the dish.
5. Bake for 1 hour, watching to make sure the tops don’t brown too much. Test the pumpkins by piercing with a fork. If the skin doesn’t pierce easily, remove the tops and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Replace the tops and serve hot.
Per serving: 313 calories; 23 g fat; 8 g saturated fat; 32 mg cholesterol; 10 g protein; 22 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 290 mg sodium; 221 mg calcium
Slightly adapted from a recipe by Kim Sverson in the New York Times
By Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch