A perfect recipe for Autumn.
Kelsey Fast is the author of the blog A Forager’s Home (http://www.aforagershome.blogspot.ca) where she writes about her passions of foraging, gardening, motherhood, and DIY. All photos taken by Cara Eliason. (Cara’s Instagram: @caraeliason)
I often like to joke about my ‘Basic White Girl Status’. By the time summer’s heat is reaching its peak I am already itching for apples, crunchy leaves, crisp weather, and – dare I say it – pumpkin spice lattes. My birthday is in the Fall, so I like to think of it as my time of year. I find any excuse to consume the most pumpkin I possibly can, and so when Tara reached out to me about doing a guest post with a recipe for Fall comfort food I immediately knew it was going to be pumpkin.
This is one of my favourites; I pull it out every year without fail at some gathering or other. It is the perfect thing to bring to a Grey Cup party, or to use as a side for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Any pumpkin or squash is fair game for this recipe, and you can even use small ‘Jack Be Little’ or ‘Munchkin’ pumpkins to make individual servings. I owe my original inspiration to Dorie Greenspan’s ‘Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good’, but the idea of stuffing squash is not a new one, and you should feel free to experiment with whatever you like. I like this savoury bacon and cheese combo, but I think it would be really nice to take it in a sweeter direction with apples, and cranberries. In this recipe there is a lot of freedom. I’m giving general instructions but feel free to take this as a guide and go wherever you like with it.
To start with you are going to need to choose a pumpkin and decide what you want to stuff it with. As I said previously any pumpkin or squash will do the trick, but you’re going to want to consider a few things. A big pumpkin will feed more people but remember that they tend to get watery the larger they are, and obviously your cooking time will increase. The pumpkin I chose is one of the strange golden ones that grew, feral from my garden compost bin this year. It is some sort of accidental hybrid that I lovingly refer to as a ‘frankenpumpkin’. One of our local market garden growers told me once that squash are promiscuous little things, and I rather love that description. If you want to breed squash that grows true to type you have to isolate them by a mile radius from anything else in the curcubita pepo family (many pumpkins, summer squash, zucchini, etc) or they will cross. This is a big contrast from something like beans where you usually wouldn’t have any problems saving seed year after year even in a small backyard garden!
Once you have your pumpkin, you need to cut open the top and scoop out the innards jack-o-lantern style. You’ll also need to prep any other ingredients. For this pumpkin I chose croutons, cheese, bacon, onion, garlic, cream, and fresh herbs. I usually make my own croutons, but you could buy them. If you want to make them the process is simple – cube up some stale bread and toast it on a cookie sheet in a low temperature oven. Season to taste. I usually toss mine with some sel de provence.
At this point preheat your oven to 350 degrees celsius and adjust your oven racks so that there will be enough room for your whole pumpkin (stem and everything).
Aren’t these gigantic garlic cloves fantastic? That’s how big they are next to my diced onions. The variety is called ‘Red Russian’ and it grows really well on the West Coast. I’m head over heels for garlic, so I diced up two along with a medium onion and added them in with some chopped bacon that was frying up as I diced. The onions and garlic soak up all that lovely bacon fat so resist the urge to drain it. This is going to add a lot of flavour to your finished dish.
Your next step is to add some fresh herbs. Choose whichever you like but keep in mind how it will taste with everything else. To go with my bacon, onions, and garlic, I chose sage, chives, thyme, and marjoram. Basically what I had on hand from the herb garden.
Mix it all together – croutons, bacon, onion, garlic, and fresh herbs. Now you are going to add your cheese. All I had on hand this time was your basic run of the mill cheddar, but I really recommend thinking outside the box a little more than I did on this one! While there is nothing wrong with cheddar, adding a few others into the mix makes for a more interesting flavour profile.
At the very end you are going to pour some heavy cream over the lot. The amount you use takes a bit of guess work. It depends on how much of your crouton mix you have. I just keep drizzling and stirring until everything is sort of moistened. Whenever I make this recipe or stuffing for a turkey I always wonder why we bother toasting the bread to become hard croutons if we are only going to add liquid to soften it later! One of life’s great questions, right?
Add your final dashes of salt and pepper, or other seasonings, and when you are happy with your mix go ahead and stuff it into the cavity of the pumpkin. When I have finished this step I like to add another layer of cheese to the top. Normally I make far too much of the stuffing and I end up working really hard to fit it all in, but for some reason I had the opposite problem this time! Next time I will make more croutons so that it would fill up right to the top of the pumpkin. When you get it more exact you end up with this deliciously bubbly, crispy layer of cheese that just brings it up another level.
Place your pumpkin on a baking sheet and then make sure you put the top of the pumpkin – the part with the stem that we cut off previously – back on like a lid. If you have overfilled your pumpkin that’s fine, just balance it on the top of everything. You’re going to bake it all covered like that for 30 minutes (45 if your pumpkin is really big) and then take the lid off and bake it for the same amount of time or until your cheese is bubbly and the pumpkin is so soft you can easily pierce though the skin with a fork. I recommend placing the pumpkin ‘lid’ to the side on the baking tray to continue cooking with the rest since there is quite a lot of tasty pumpkin on it that you aren’t going to want to waste!
To serve scoop it out and make sure you scrape the sides to include lots of pumpkin on each plate!
Preheat oven 350˚C, Serves 4-6 (depending on size of pumpkin)
- 1 medium pumpkin
- croutons to fill pumpkin cavity
- 1/2 lb bacon
- 1 medium onion
- 2 – 4 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 pound cheese (grated)
- fresh chives
- fresh marjoram
- fresh sage
- fresh thyme
- Cut open and scrape seeds from pumpkin. Season with salt and pepper.
- Sauté bacon until almost crispy. Add diced onion and garlic. Cook until the onions are translucent.
- Combine croutons, bacon mixture, cheese, fresh chopped herbs, and cream in a bowl. Add more cream if croutons still seem dry. Stuff mixture into pumpkin.
Place the ‘lid’ of the pumpkin back on and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake for 30 minutes more or until the cheese is bubbly and the pumpkin is soft enough that a fork can pierce through the skin.