Vegetarian Baked Stuffed Pumpkin: Thanksgiving Recipe

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.

Cooling the rice and leeks, cooking the kale. And the pumpkin was only there for the picture; I wasn’t going to let it sit on the hot oven the whole time.

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).

Very easy to chop the spinach when it’s in THIS condition.

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.

Fresh sage…so good!

It’s still vegan at this point. You don’t have to add the cheese or cream.

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.

Starting to stuff the sugar pumpkins.

Looks full, but we can pack more in there!

If I were a food blogger, I’d rotate this picture, wouldn’t I?

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.

Yes, yes, yes. Oh, and is that a pan of triple-chocolate Ghirardelli brownies behind it? When the oven’s on, I use it. Also, this is why I should be invited to dinner more often, don’t you think?

OK, this is really unfair. It looks smaller than the beer can. It’s not. It’s a weird perspective. Also, it’s totally dense with cheese veggie rice goodness. Trust me, 4 adults and 4 children couldn’t finish half of this, even though I’m pretty sure we each had third helpings of it.

Hello, cheesy wholesome goodness. Also that gravy boat to the right contains really excellent turkey gravy that my friend had JUST made.

It gave, and it gave.

To serve, spoon the filling onto plates, making sure to scoop pumpkin flesh too.

Be happy.

Vegetarian Baked Stuffed Pumpkin for Thanksgiving

Serves 6-8
Prep time 30 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Dietary Vegan, Vegetarian
Meal type Main Dish, Side Dish
Misc Freezable, Gourmet, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Occasion Thanksgiving
Region American

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sugar pumpkin
  • 1-1.5 cup wild rice (cooked)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil and/or butter
  • 1 large leek (cleaned and trimmed, sliced)
  • 1 large carrot (cleaned and trimmed, cut lengthwise then sliced)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup kale (cleaned, chopped)
  • 1-2 cup spinach (cleaned, large stems removed; ok to use frozen chopped spinach, thawed)
  • 2-3 leaves fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon fresh dill (optional)
  • .25-.5lb Gruyere (or Cheddar or similar cheese, grated or shredded)
  • .5-1 cup cream (light cream or half-and-half is fine)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup pecans, walnuts, or other nuts ([OPTIONAL: vegan addition])
  • 2-3 medium slices bacon (chopped [OPTIONAL: meat-lover’s addition])
  • 1 cup sausage chunks (browned [OPTIONAL: meat-lover’s addition])

Directions

Step 1
Preheat oven to 350. Cook wild rice according to package directions in order to end up with 1-1.5 cups cooked rice.
Step 2
While rice is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and/or butter in skillet on medium-high. Add leeks and carrots. Stir and cook until leeks are translucent and carrot softens. Remove to a large bowl. When rice is cooked, add 1 cup of cooked rice to the bowl.
Step 3
Saute kale in half a tablespoon of olive oil and/or butter. When kale softens, add to bowl. If using fresh spinach, heat remaining oil/butter. Saute spinach. Use tongs to move wilted spinach to cutting board. Chop spinach coarsely, then add to bowl. (If using frozen chopped spinach, thaw and add to bowl.) Mix all ingredients well.
Step 4
Add shredded cheese to bowl. Crush or mince the garlic; add to bowl. Cut sage into ribbons; add to bowl. Add dill, salt, and pepper. Mix all ingredients well. Adjust salt and pepper as needed, or add more garlic if you want more zing (it will get milder in flavor as it cooks). (For vegans, leave out cheese and add 1 cup toasted chopped nuts. For meat-lovers, add one cup browned sausage chunks or 2-3 slices of cooked, chopped bacon.
Step 5
Cut top off sugar pumpkin as you would cut the top off a jack-o-lantern. Be sure you cut it large enough for your hand and a spoon to fit through to clean out the pumpkin. Scrape seeds and stringy parts out of pumpkin (save seeds to roast, if you desire).
Step 6
Line a baking tray with parchment (or lightly oil the baking tray) so the pumpkin doesn’t stick to it. Place pumpkin on baking tray. Pack filling into pumpkin. Pack it in well (you may end up with leftover filling, but it’s good on its own, too, or you can freeze it for another time). Pour cream over top, slowly. Depending on how tightly you packed the filling, the cream may take some time to filter through. Put lid on pumpkin. Place in oven.
Step 7
After about an hour and ten minutes, remove the lid of the pumpkin. Place it on baking tray next to pumpkin. Continue to cook. After 90 minutes, filling should be bubbling up and pumpkin should be tender to the touch (and will have darkened). Depending on size of pumpkin and how tightly you packed the filling, it might need more time.
Step 8
When pumpkin has darkened and (more importantly!) the filling is bubbling, take it out of the oven. Carefully move pumpkin to a serving plate. Place the lid back on for presentation, if you wish, or lean it next to pumpkin.
Step 9
To serve, be sure to scoop pumpkin flesh as you spoon out the filling.

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