Saturday, November 20, 2010

Eat, Drink, Cook: Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good

From the first moment I stumbled across the recipe for Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good, I had to try it. I already had the perfect candidate: a beautiful little pie pumpkin I picked right from the vine at Venetucci Farm that I've been saving for something special.

One of the many things I love about Hethyr Pletsch, the personal chef who put on a holiday cooking class last weekend at Ranch Foods Direct, is her enthusiasm for ingredient substitution and experimentation. This is also true of Michele Mukatis, who taught a series of cooking classes this summer through her business Cultivate Health, and it's probably true of all foodies: part of the art of cooking is constantly improvising.

When I finally had a chance to try this recipe (an easily revisable mixture of meat, cheese, fruit and nuts roasted inside a pumpkin) I was improvising from the first. In the waning days of the farmers market when winter squash were plentiful, Smith Farms had an abundance of acorns in a glorious range of shapes and sizes. I chose one resembling a small pumpkin, thinking it would be great as a table decoration and then later for cooking. Over the weeks since, it even started turning orange. (Maybe the plant actually cross-pollinated with a pumpkin.) Anyway, it looked like it needed to be used up faster than the pumpkin, and it also had this perfect little stem on the top for a handle.

The results were beautiful and delicious. I had my moment of doubt first cutting into the squash (it's not easy to cut out the trap door on top and clean out the insides, but it is doable.) It also didn't take much more than an hour to bake (due to the fairly small size.) The spicy Italian sausage links from Ranch Foods Direct and the red wax-rind creamy melty Gouda cheese I used were excellent in it. (I didn't use bacon like the original recipe suggested, though I could have mixed it in. The sausage did seem to be a good choice.) I was reluctant at first to use bread in mine, so I included quartered fresh mushrooms as a filler. (Okay, I just happened to have day-old bread, so I did go ahead and use some of that too.) You could experiment with rice or a risotto pasta (I'm thinking about trying shredded cabbage) or go more in the direction of sweet (think dessert material) rather than savory (spectacular main dish.) But our savory version, with snipped fresh rosemary sprinkled in, was divine, a fun and flavorful one-dish meal (dish provided by nature).

After the two of us had dinner, we still had enough flesh left on the insides of the squash to scrape out and use later for a variation of curried pumpkin chicken chowder (a recipe from Hethyr Pletsch.)

At this time of year, a time for stuffing turkeys, I have to say it's almost as dramatic and satisfying to stuff a pumpkin to put in the middle of the table. And certainly, a possibility is to do both! Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good is as wonderful as it sounds.