I just love it when Mother Nature gives you some of her bounty without your even trying. It happened recently when a butternut squash grew in my garden as a “volunteer” plant among my rose bushes, and again when my son discovered a long vine with several pumpkins he hadn’t planted growing in his front yard. Either the birds or the wind carried seeds to these new places that provided fertile ground for the welcome plants.
We weren’t sure at first what kind of squash or pumpkin we were dealing with, since it was green for so long.
But as the cold weather progressed, the pumpkin started to turn orange on the bottom.
And the interior certainly looked like the typical orange jack o’lantern. I decided to use my lagniappe in a recipe I’d read about long ago in a memoir called “A Thousand Days in Venice” by Marlena De Blasi. I made several adjustments however, since I felt the amount of cheese in it was excessive (believe me, there’s still a lot of cheese in it). It would also make a spectacular showstopper dish at the Thanksgiving table.
Start by carving out the lid, and scooping out all the stringy stuff and seeds from inside.
Take some good bread (I used ciabatta) and cube it, tossing it in butter until browned.
Saute some mushrooms and onions in butter, adding some fresh sage leaves to give a bit more flavor.
Mix the mushrooms and onions with eggs and three different kinds of cheese – mascarpone, Emmanthaler and Parmesan. Marlena’s recipe calls for three cups of mascarpone, but I cut that way back to one cup and it was just fine. I cut back the amounts on the other cheeses too, and the dish was still plenty cheese flavored.
Layer the cheese mixture into the pumpkin with the bread, making several layers and ending with the cheese mixture.
Place the lid on top and bake in the oven for about 1 1/2 – 2 hours, removing the lid for the final 20 minutes to brown the top. Pierce the flesh with a knife to see if it’s soft and if it’s not, leave it in the oven a bit longer.
Remove from the oven and bring to the table amid oohs and aahs. Scoop out some of the flesh and some of the pumpkin for each person. We had lots of leftover pumpkin after the stuffing was all gone, and it was great for leftovers one night. But I blitzed the rest in a food processor and used it to make the best pumpkin muffins I’ve ever eaten. Stay tuned in the next blog post for that recipe.
By the way, if your pumpkin was too small to hold all the stuffing, place the rest in small buttered ramekins and bake them another night. They make a great side dish — a kind of mushroom bread pudding.
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- 1 large pumpkin (about 5 pounds)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large onion (about 2 cups minced)
- 12 ounces sliced mushrooms (I used baby portobello, but a mixtured of fresh mushrooms and dried porcini would be great)
- fresh sage leaves
- sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup mascarpone cheese
- 3 ounces parmesan cheese
- 8 ounces Emmenthaler cheese (or Gruyere or Comte)
- 3 whole eggs, beaten
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 tablespoons butter for toasting the bread
- 6 slices hearty bread, cubed (about four cups)
- Cut the bread into cubes (I didn't trim the crusts).
- Melt the 4 tablespoons butter in a frying pan and add the bread, tossing it to brown all around.
- (I did this in two batches so each piece of bread could rest flatly on the pan.)
- Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter and add the onion and mushrooms, cooking until softened and the mushrooms give up their liquid.
- Season with salt and pepper
- I also added some sage leaves to the above to flavor them.
- Beat the eggs lightly with a whisk, then add the cheesesm and nutmeg and stir well.
- Remove the lid from the pumpkin and clean out the cavity of all its seeds and strings.
- Into the cavity place one third of the cheese/egg mixture, then layer half the bread cubes over it.
- Repeat again with another third of the cheese/egg mixture and the rest of the bread cubes, finishing with the remainder of the cheese/egg mixture.
- If you have more than you need, put the rest in a buttered casserole and cook it separately another time.
- Place the lid on the pumpkin and place the pumpkin on a heavy baking pan or cookie sheet.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 1½ - 2 hours, removing the lid during the last 20 to brown the top.
- Test the pumpkin to see if its cooked by piercing the flesh with a knife.
- It should be soft.
- Serve immediately, scooping out portions of the pumpkin with the stuffing.