Every now and again, we have a vegetarian at our holiday table. There are always plenty of side dishes that will work for them, but I think vegetarians should be able to experience a filling and delicious main course. Just to be clear, non-vegetarians gobble this up, too! Yeah, I went for the Thanksgiving pun…get over it! Anyway, I got the idea for this from Dorie Greenspan. She’s a very smart and clever woman. She knows stuff! She was talking about her stuffed pumpkin on NPR one day, and The Youngest Progeny was dating a lovely young woman who is vegetarian. I wanted to make a vegetarian main course. Something substantial. This is the evolution of that pumpkin. It turns out, we all loved it, vegetarians and omnivores alike! And really, what’s not to love?
This is a pretty flexible recipe. I’ve made it several times over the years. Once, I went to the Latin flavor and added chorizo (okay, that’s not vegetarian…I know!) and other times, I’ve gone in the Italian direction. I’ve changed up the herb selection, from time to time, and I’ve stuffed it into a large Hubbard squash. But, it never seems to matter, it’s just damn delicious.
You’re going to have to cut a lid on of the pumpkin (think jack-o-lantern), and remove the seeds. Make certain you cut at a steep angle, 45° works well, when you’re cutting the lid. Do not cut straight up-and-down or the lid will fall in during baking. It will taste fine, but it won’t be as attractive when you serve it. I use a tablespoon and just scrape the seeds and membranes loose from the pumpkin. I make a foil “collar” by placing the pumpkin in the center of a large sheet of foil (about 24 X 24-inches), then scrunch up foil, forming it into a ring around the base of the pumpkin. Just squeeze and push the foil up against the pumpkin. Place the foil and pumpkin on a baking sheet. You can use a deep casserole, if you prefer. It’s easiest to use something that you can both bake in and bring to the table. If you choose to use a cookie sheet, moving the soft, cooked pumpkin can be a bit tricky and you can end up with this lovely, filled orb splattered all over your kitchen floor! Trust me on this, okay? But, that’s what I usually use. Now, you might want to preheat the oven to 350°F.
For the stuffing, I sauté the onions, fennel and mushrooms in some olive oil, just until they wilt a bit, about 3-4 minutes. Then, I deglaze with white wine. Add the dried and fresh herbs, along with the sliced garlic, frozen spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. I used smoked sun-dried tomatoes, this time. In a large bowl, toss the bread and cheeses. Add sautéed vegetables to the bowl; toss together. Make certain the mixture is well-seasoned. Add the toasted nuts and fried bacon, if using; stir. Pack the mixture into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well-filled; you may have a little too much filling. I usually make extra and place it in an oiled dish, pour some cream over it and bake it alongside the pumpkin. Who doesn’t love extra stuffing? Pour the cream into the pumpkin. Adjust the amount so you can just barely see the cream. You don’t want the ingredients to swim in cream, because the pumpkin will release some water. When the pumpkin is done, everything inside the pumpkin should be bubbly and the pumpkin flesh should be fork-tender. I remove the cap the last half hour of baking, as the pumpkin gives off quite a bit of liquid and I like the stuffing to brown a bit, too. The pumpkin will take a couple of hours to bake. I usually remove the lid the last half hour of cooking so the filling can brown up a bit. The pumpkin will be done with the tip of a sharp knife. When the pumpkin is done, carefully remove it from the oven and place on the table. The pumpkin is heavy, so be a bit careful moving it. It can be somewhat cumbersome and wobbly. I like to let the pumpkin stand for at least 30 minutes. It holds the heat like crazy and it’s a bit easier to serve. You can either stir the whole mess up with a big spoon, dragging in some of the flesh. Or you can let each guest serve themselves, pulling in some of the pumpkin with each serving. I’m a fan of the latter. Either way, be careful not to poke through the pumpkin skin. This is a very filling vegetarian entrée or side. We love it reheated and though I’ve not done it, I think it could be made the day ahead and reheated. Store leftovers in the fridge.
Heavenly Stuffed Pumpkin
- 1 pumpkin, about 3-4 pounds
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup sliced leeks or diced onion
- 1/2 cup diced fresh fennel bulb (I include some fronds, if you have them)
- 3 ounces quartered mushrooms (about 3 or 4 large ones)
- 4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1 1/2-ounces sun-dried tomato strips (I used a smoked variety)
- 1 cup frozen, chopped spinach (optional-I added it)
- 2-3 cups dry (stale) bread, cut or torn into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1/3 pound cheese (see NOTE), cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1/4 cup coarsely shredded parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup toasted pecans or hazelnuts
- 1/4-1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh herbs*
- About 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup cooked and drained crumbled bacon (optional)
*I used a combination of fresh parsley, thyme, sage and chives, along with 1 teaspoon dried fines herbes
Using a very sturdy knife (be very careful, as an emergency room visit tends to dampen the festive spirit!), cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin (think Halloween Jack-o-Lantern). Cut around the stem of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle. You want the opening to be large enough to get your hand inside. Remove the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin. I use a sturdy tablespoon. Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper; set aside.
Make a foil “collar” by placing the pumpkin in the center of a large sheet of foil (about 24 X 24-inches), then scrunch up foil, forming it into a ring around the base of the pumpkin. Place the foil and pumpkin on a baking sheet; set aside while you make the stuffing. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
In a heavy skillet, add the oil and sauté the mushrooms, leeks and fennel until they just wilt, about 3-4 minutes. Deglaze the pan with dry white wine; add the garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and herbs; set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the bread, cheeses, and sautéed vegetables together. Season with salt and pepper, tasting to make certain it’s well seasoned. Add the toasted nuts; stir. Pack the mixture into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well-filled; you may have a little too much filling. (If so, place in an oiled dish, pour some cream over it and bake alongside the pumpkin.) Pour the cream into the pumpkin. Adjust the amount so you can just barely see the cream; you don’t want the ingredients to swim in cream. The pumpkin will release some water.
Place the cap on the pumpkin. Place in the oven and bake the pumpkin for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the cap from the pumpkin and continue to bake for an additional 1/2 hour or until the pumpkin flesh can be easily pierced with a knife tip. It usually takes about 2 hours to doneness.
When the pumpkin is done, carefully remove it from the oven and place on the table. Be careful, as the pumpkin is heavy and can be somewhat cumbersome and wobbly. I prefer to let this stand for at least 30 minutes, as it holds the heat like crazy and it’s a bit easier to serve. You can either stir the whole mess up with a big spoon, dragging in some of the flesh, or you can let each guest serve themselves, pulling in some of the pumpkin with each serving. I’m a fan of the latter. This is a very filling vegetarian entrée or side. We love it reheated and though I’ve not done it, I think it could be made the day ahead and reheated. Store leftovers in the fridge.
NOTE: For the cheese, I’ve used Brie, Gruyère, Swiss, cheddar, or a combination. I love the combination of Gruyère, Brie and cheddar. I have added shredded zucchini, chopped spinach, kale, frozen corn, as well as fried bacon or cubes of ham or prosciutto. I would urge you not to omit the nuts, unless there is an allergy. I’ve added fresh oysters and used part cornbread for the bread. Cooked sausage, chorizo or even kielbasa are good, too. For herbs, I usually use a blend—parsley, thyme, sage and chives. I’ve used tarragon, fines herbes, fresh basil, chiles, whole cumin seeds, caraway seeds (once, I added some sauerkraut with kielbasa)…anyway, you get the picture. For gluten-free folks, omit the bread and use cooked arborio or wild rice or a blend of the two.
Heavenly Stuffed Pumpkin Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2017. All rights reserved.