The first time you pull a roasted pumpkin from your oven is transformative. Its honeyed fragrance has already drifted through the house and brought neighbors sniffing to your door. The whole squash looks handsome and autumnal on your table. And then you actually taste it. You take off the cap and scoop a spoonful of tender pumpkin and salty, creamy stuffing, and your eyes widen. You make a mental note to feed this to everyone you know.
It’s that kind of dish. Worthy of a Thanksgiving feast, and it happens to be vegetarian.
Plenty of chefs have their own spin on stuffed pumpkin, but years ago the first recipe that I came across was on Dorie Greenspan’s terrific website. Her approach to this meal remains my favorite and a great foundation for experimentation. The essential truth is that if you take a good pumpkin, hollow it out and fill it with some combination of herbs, cream, bread, and any other delicious, savory thing you like, and then bake it in the oven, you will end up with something over-the-top wonderful to serve to your friends.
Pumpkins vary greatly in size and thickness of flesh, so cooking times and the amount of stuffing that fits in the cavity will be approximate. The recipe and cooking method are forgiving and adaptable. When the filling is bubbling and the pumpkin flesh is tender when pierced, it is ready.
Pumpkin Stuffed With Cavolo Nero and Chestnuts
1 pumpkin, 5 to 7 lbs. (make sure to buy a cooking pumpkin, rather than a carving pumpkin—the latter is more likely to be bland)
4 to 5 cups cubed, stale sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch squares (dry the bread in the oven for a few minutes after cubing if using fresh; you want it crunchy)
1 cup cubed Comte, cut into 1/2-inch squares (if unable to find Comte, choose a substitute cheese that melts well, like Gruyère)
3 to 4 cups chopped cavolo nero, stems removed (any kind of chard, kale, or other hardy green works well)
1/2 cup roughly chopped chestnuts, cooked and peeled (for ease of preparation, these are often available to buy precooked and peeled)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped chives
1 1/2 T chopped fresh herbs (thyme, marjoram, rosemary, or any combination will do fine)
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Optional vegetarian additions:
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted in the oven until fragrant; let the nuts cool before rubbing off the skins, then chop roughly
1 cup sliced mushrooms, pan-seared in a small knob of butter until they have exuded their juice and turned golden brown
Optional non-vegetarian additions:
Bacon, chorizo, sausage, or thick-cut ham is excellent in this dish; cook the meat before adding it to the stuffing
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Carefully cut out the top of the pumpkin, as you would for a jack-o’-lantern. Remove all of the seeds and strings from the interior of the pumpkin and the pumpkin top. Depending on the size of the cavity, you may need to adjust the amount of stuffing. Salt and pepper the interior of the pumpkin generously.
3. In a large bowl, combine the bread, cheese, cavolo nero, chestnuts, garlic, chives, and other herbs. In a smaller bowl, grate the fresh nutmeg into the cream, stir, then pour over the bread mixture and briefly toss together. Taste the stuffing and season with salt and pepper as desired.
4. Spoon the bread mixture into the pumpkin (it should be completely full), place the top back on, and put the pumpkin on the baking sheet. Bake for 90 minutes, then check for doneness. A sharp knife should slide easily into the side of the pumpkin; if it doesn’t, return the pumpkin to the oven and check again at 20-minute intervals. When the pumpkin is done, remove the top and bake for a further 10 to 20 minutes, until the exposed stuffing is slightly browned and crispy.
5. Take the pumpkin out of the oven and transfer to a serving dish. The pumpkin will be hot and soft, so be very cautious as you move it. (If this step makes you nervous, you can also cook the pumpkin in a Dutch oven, and serve directly from there—slightly less striking in appearance than a standalone pumpkin, but less risky.)
6. Serve immediately by scooping a large spoonful of both pumpkin and stuffing from the top opening onto each plate. Garnish with a crack of black pepper and any leftover fresh herbs.
Happy Thanksgiving and don’t forget to treat yourself and give thanks for everything!!