I love fall, and love it more this year as it signals a snowy winter ahead. My first in many years. As the weather starts to turn (and it has been turning hesitantly this season), my thoughts turn to pumpkins — and candy corn. Three weeks of blissful Indian summer days turned into gray skies and a misty rain this past weekend. Good day to stuff a pumpkin.
I worked up an appetite as I hiked with a friend around the misty coastline of Prout’s Neck near Scarborough, walking along a trail called the Cliff Walk. A pretty tame set of cliffs as cliffs go but a lovely amble near the coast nonetheless. Turns out, this path was well-trod by a laborer who was part of a crew constructing a mansion in this coastal enclave. He was a [former] college professor who had lost his job and facing a dismal job market, found himself working as a construction gopher on the Maine coast. He walked said path to work each day. He ended up writing a book about his struggles called … The Cliff Walk, The Memoir of a Job Lost and a Life Found. Now there’s a book title. I haven’t read it yet, but am intrigued.
Back home, pumpkins await. Pumpkins are one of my favorite fall canvases to cook on and in. Bright orange, sturdy, nutritious, versatile … it has it all. The stuffed pumpkin recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan, a prolific cookbook author who splits her time between New York, Paris and Connecticut. One of her many cookbooks – Around my French Table – is where I found the recipe for the celebrated citrouille. This recipe is typical French peasant fare, practical, delicious, resourceful — using up bits and pieces you have in the refrigerator and pantry. It’s flexible, so mix and match as you see fit.
Serves 2-4, depending on pumpkin size
1-2 small pumpkin pie pumpkins
1 cup cooked rice or hunks of stale bread
1/2 to 1 cup shredded cheese (comte, gruyere, havarti)
1 bunch of Swiss chard or spinach (steamed or blanched), chopped into ribbons
One apple, chopped into cubes
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
Handful or two of pistachios
salt and pepper
1-2 tsp thyme
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/3 cup half-n-half or heavy cream
pinch or two of nutmeg
1. Pre-heat oven to 350°. Cut the top off your pumpkin. Make the cap a big round one so you can better hollow it out and de-seed. Once it’s all cleaned out, season with salt and pepper – use a heavy hand. Place on a cookie sheet or if you prefer, corral the pumpkin in a deeper baking dish.
2. Combine rice or bread, chard, apple, cheese, garlic and herbs, in a mixing bowl. Season with pepper. The cheese might make it salty enough, but if not, salt away. Stuff into pumpkin and pack it full.
3. Mix together cream, nutmeg and some salt and pepper. Pour over stuffing. It should be pretty moist.
4. Bake for 2 hours! Check after 90 minutes and remove cap. Cook for additional 30 minutes, if needed. The pumpkin flesh should give when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and let cool.
5. Split pumpkin down the middle, and serve.
1. This is loose so make adjustments as needed. Meat lovers can add bacon or chunks of ham. Replace pistachios with walnuts or almonds. Dried cherries or cranberries would be nice as well.
2. The pumpkin I used was done in 90 minutes. So, keep an eye on the orange orb.