best-ever stuffed pumpkins

Serves: 2 as a main course or 4 as a side dish

Prep Time: 25 minutes | Cook Time: 90 minutes

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best-ever stuffed pumpkins

All right, it’s official. Fall is here. It’s even raining in San Francisco. And there are sugar pie pumpkins everywhere. Not on people’s doorsteps, but in the markets. These are the fleshy, smooth edible squash that can be baked and used in pies or peeled and used in soups or easiest of all, stuffed and eaten from the shell. That got me thinking of a recipe we made when I was in cooking school, a sort of onion soup in a pumpkin, but drier. Once it was baked, you reached into the pumpkin and scooped out the flesh and the gooey bread and cheese and onions inside. I learned it from Mary Risley who says she learned it from Jaques Pepin who called it “panade” in a pumpkin. Dorie Greenspan has a similar recipe that she calls Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good. That’s because she includes bacon, proving yet again that everything is better with bacon, even a pumpkin. (And if you want to add cooked, crumbled bacon to this recipe, go right ahead).

Instead of using one big pumpkin as they do, I use medium-size sugar pies and serve each as a main course. You could cut the pumpkins in half and serve it as a side dish, too. This is a great way to recycle stale bread (half a 1-lb loaf, with the crusts sliced off, will be the right amount) and it’s less work than carving a jack-o-lantern. Plus, what better meal for Halloween? The only problem is I can’t find as clever a name for mine as Dorie does for hers….so I’ll just go with “best-ever.”

ingredients

2 small sugar pie pumpkins, about 2 lbs each
6 oz crustless day-old bread, torn into pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced and rinsed of grit
kosher salt
2/3 cup half-and-half
4 oz gruyère or emmenthaler cheese, cut into small cubes
pinch grated nutmeg
freshly ground pepper

directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Slice tops off pumpkins about 2 inches below the stems; you want a wider opening than for a jack-o-lantern. With as spoon, scrape strings and seeds from underside of the lid and inside of the pumpkin. (If you want to roast seeds, see note below.) Put the bread in a mixing bowl.

In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onion, leek, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until very soft and barely golden, about 8 minutes. Scrape into the bowl with the bread. Add the half-and-half, cheese, nutmeg, and several grindings of pepper; stir well. Divide bread mixture between pumpkins (don’t pack it in; the filling expands as it bakes). Put pumpkin lids back on. Place pumpkins in a baking pan which just fits them side by side (I use a disposable foil pan because the pumpkins leave a sticky residue and it’s easier to throw away than scrub away; just recycle the foil pan). Bake for 90 minutes or until pumpkin flesh is soft enough to pierce easily with a knife and the outside of pumpkin is slightly browned but not collapsing. Check after about an hour and at that time, set the lids next to the pumpkins in the pan and continue to bake until done and tops of filling browns slightly. Remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

If serving two people, carefully lift each pumpkin onto a dinner plate and place its lid alongside. If serving four people, remove lids and slice each pumpkin in half vertically and carefully place each half on a plate alongside the main course. To eat, scoop out pumpkin flesh from shell with every bite.

note: to roast seeds, separate seeds from strings then rinse seeds and pat dry. Toss seeds with olive oil and salt to coat. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast seeds at 350°F for 12 to 15 minutes. Munch as a snack while pumpkins bake.