I must admit, at various times in my life I’ve encountered a number of things that have brought out an inner demon or two. Luckily, I’ve never had to put pumpkin in the “demon antagonizer” category: that is, until last Tuesday.
I am usually quite at ease experimenting in the kitchen; unfortunately, I was not confident stuffing pumpkins, as I had heard Dorie Greenspan suggest to do on the radio last week. She was interviewed about her cookbook and described this dish in a way that begged me to make it, immediately. In a way that suggested that it was comfort food filled thoughtfully, effortlessly into a pumpkin and then forgotten about in the oven.
This is usually my kind of cooking. And yet, my inner critic was relentless. I mixed the bread with the cheese. “Are you sure this is all of the ingredients,” she taunted. “No eggs?” she questioned, imaginary eyebrow raised. “Your bread isn’t stale enough,” she whispered, breathing down my neck, “you need more nutmeg, more sweetness.” At the last minute, I chopped up an apple that seemed to be eyeing me suspiciously on the counter and added it in.
I am ashamed to admit this now, as I made two gloriously stuffed pumpkins, but this recipe brought out inner demons that are usually absent in my kitchen and had me second-guessing everything that was going into the oven that night. And I have no idea why.
It’s a lovely, simple recipe that should have had me visiting a place where I could reminisce about carving jack-o-lanterns and roasting pumpkin seeds. Yet, at the time I was pretty convinced this pumpkin would be a bland, lifeless, ugly squash-corpse: and it was taking me with it.
I had cut the top lopsided so it didn’t fit back on the pumpkin. Then, when I picked it up, the stem fell clear off. It was clear: this pumpkin was going to bring me down. And how timely, given that thanksgiving was around the corner. Talk about a time for inner demons.
Juggling thanksgiving issues is like playing whack-a-mole. You prevent the marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes from burning, just in time to dodge a drunk uncle, all the while basting the turkey (or fretting that you aren’t basting the turkey) and fielding questions about your love life—or lack thereof. It’s like a dysfunctional culinary opera. And yet, oddly enough, thanksgiving always turns out great. Even if the day doesn’t go perfectly (which it never does) there is usually a fair amount of laughs along the way, amid turkey gravy, pomegranate cocktails, and slices of pie.
What I suggest this year is to take the thanksgiving leftovers—definitely the day old rolls and perhaps the cranberry sauce—along with any demons you may be wrestling and shove them into a hollowed-out pumpkin and bake the hell out of them. Everything binds beautifully together (even without the eggs) and eating it you can’t help but lighten up a bit.
You’ve probably guessed by now, these stuffed pumpkins never did bring me down; in fact, they did quite the opposite. I wholeheartedly suggest you give this recipe a go. Even if you still feel a little like a stuffed pumpkin from thanksgiving dinner, at least it will be from pumpkin pie and not from your problems.
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan1-2 small pumpkins, tops cut off (like you are carving a pumpkin), hollowed out with seeds removed
OR sliced in half, hollowed out with seeds removed (depending on the shape of your pumpkin)
3-4 slices of day-old bread, torn into pieces
1 cup shredded cheese, cheddar or swiss would work great
1/2 cup whole milk (heavy cream would also be lovely if you have it)
1 apple, diced (skin can be left on)
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of ginger
Pinch of allspice
Pinch of cinnamon
Kosher salt black pepper to taste
Olive or canola oil for greasing pan
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease sheet pan with oil. Mix all ingredients (besides the pumpkins) together in a medium-sized bowl, until bread is slightly soggy and mixture is fairly wet throughout. (You may need to add more bread or more milk until you get the right consistency and amount). Fill pumpkins with mixture, place on sheet pan and bake covered loosely with foil for about 30-40 minutes. Remove foil and bake uncovered 20-30 minutes more, or until pumpkin flesh is soft and appears cooked throughout. (Cover the pumpkins again with foil if they are browning too much and still need time cooking.)
-If you cut the pumpkin top off with care, you can probably put it back on the pumpkin and bake everything in the oven, as Dorie suggests. I did not execute this stage with grace.
-This recipe is open to interpretation, even Ms. Greenspan says is a "recipe-in-progress"; feel free to stuff it with whatever leftovers you think might mix in nicely. Cranberry relish and walnuts would both be lovely additions. Jello mold, perhaps not so much.
-Look for pumpkins that are about 2-3 pounds in size. As you can see, I tested two types of pumpkins. I preferred the round over the long variety. It tasted sweeter. And I enjoyed being able to cut slices of it.