Ever since I glimpsed a baked stuffed pumpkin on Twitter, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of making one.
The traditional recipe, it seems, is chock-full of bread, cheese, garlic, and cream. I’m down with heaps of garlic and some cheese, but a meal of bread, cheese, and cream is really not how we eat here. I immediately thought about making a healthy vegetarian baked stuffed pumpkin recipe: swapping out bread for whole grains, adding chopped greens, cutting back on the cheese and cream. The original sounds amazing but just too heavy for us.
Oh, and then I saw a version that contains all that plus bacon. Yeah. I’d love that, very very much, but in a small dose. I will make that one day for a dinner party, but not just for my family. It would go to waste.
The wheels were still turning in my head. Whole grains instead of bread. Greens. Maybe some sausage or bacon. Definitely cheese, but not super-cheesy. Moderate cream.
And then I went for it. I went to a nearby farm for leeks, carrots, kale, spinach, and fresh sage. I had the whole Saturday ahead of me. I could finally make this thing, because we were having dinner with friends that night and I was off to an afternoon brunch the following day. I could make two stuffed pumpkins.
I cooked wild rice, and while it cooked, I sauteed leeks and carrots and kale. I mixed this into the wild rice in a big bowl. Then I felt like we needed more greens, so I sauteed spinach (the big leaves, not that baby-spinach stuff; the big spinach leaves from the nearby farm are so damn tasty you practically fall out of your chair when you eat them, thinking, “Oh yeah, THAT’S what spinach tastes like!!”). I chopped up the spinach once it was sauteed (why? I don’t know, maybe because I’m lazy and the raw leaves make such a huge pile falling everywhere but the sauteed leaves are a small neat pile and don’t go drifting off onto the counter and floor as I chop).
Then I grated a lot (a lot) of Gruyere. I don’t know, I guess I just did what I thought was “the right amount” and then thought, “Why have this poor small chunk just left alone in the fridge?” so I grated that, too. I tossed the shredded cheese into the bowl. Now it was time for chiffonading the sage. Basically I just used my kitchen shears to cut it into ribbons over the bowl. I also added some fresh dill, and salt and freshly ground pepper. Oh, and chives! I forgot. Only add chives if you have some on hand and don’t want them to die in your fridge. Otherwise, you don’t need them.
Toss, toss. Taste. Sprinkle of salt. Toss. Taste. Crush in 3 more cloves of garlic (which made young Ben, who’d previously loved his samples, frown and say it was too spicy). Toss. Try to simply taste instead of eat it all.
So easy! This actually was the simple part. Now it was time to cut the tops off the pumpkins, clean them out, and stuff them.
Did you know that since sugar pumpkins are a lot smaller than regular pumpkins, they are a real pain in the butt to clean out? I’m used to hacking them in half and scooping out the guts. When you’re leaving it whole and just going in through the top, it takes more patience. Maybe I could have cut a bigger hole in the top. Maybe you should, when you make it. Trust me.
Stuff the pumpkin. Pack it right in there. To the top. Fill it. When you think it can’t possibly hold any more of the stuffing, pour cream in, as much as you’re comfortable with.
Put the lid on, make sure your rack is on the lowest setting (so the pumpkin will fit in your oven, unless your pumpkin is smaller or your oven bigger than mine), and bake for at least 90 minutes. I say “at least” because my first-day pumpkin was in at least that long and was fantastic. The next-day’s pumpkin didn’t get to bake quite as long and wasn’t as good. The pumpkin flesh in the longer-baked one was just melting into the stuffing, which I swear was bubbling with joy (and cream and melted cheesy goodness).
Oh, and take the lid off for the last 20 minutes or so of cooking. Just do it.
To serve, spoon the filling onto plates, making sure to scoop pumpkin flesh too.