Pumpkin Part Two — roast it with cheese

Pumpkins. We’re halfway through October and they’re beginning to make an appearance on nearly every doorstep in our neighborhood. But not on ours. No, this year I can’t seem to let them sit still long enough — without eating them. After making pumpkin lasagna last week, admittedly from canned pumpkin, I had a hankering for roasting me some real pumpkin, for chopping off the stem, scraping out the stringy stuff and replacing it with something good.

And what, pray tell, could be better than chunks of homemade bread smothered in cheese? How about cheesy-bready goodness oozing out of a roasted pumpkin? My thoughts exactly.

This rendition of roast pumpkin is so good that it was one of the first things that came to mind when fall arrived this year. I vaguely recalled a pot-o’-gold pumpkin my foodie coworkers had brought into the office a few falls ago and began looking for a recipe. “Cheesy bready pumpkin” is what I ended up googling. And, of course, it led me to a Ruth Reichl recipe. I’m a big fan of hers (the former editor of now defunct Gourmet magazine and recent keynote speaker at a women’s writing conference in Kentucky over which I was lusting).

It’s one of those recipes that, as you dig your fingers into those slimy pumpkin innards, sends you back to your childhood pumpkin carving days. Only this time, you’re completely unsupervised with that big knife, and the fruit of your efforts will end up on the table for dinner — not on the porch to rot. While I probably still need supervision with my big knife (I mean, an apple cutter got the best of my thumb last week), I do relish the opportunity to make the most of a pumpkin.

And don’t forget the seeds! While I’m open to suggestions for a more efficient rinsing process, those little morsels make for the quintessential fall snack. I followed Simply Recipe‘s advice to boil the seeds first in a couple inches of water before roasting them with salt and olive oil. They were even better than I remembered.

Below is the recipe, which is as simple as it is good. It can easily be spiced up with variations on the cheese, bread or even a sauce. I used some homemade seedy bread I had leftover instead of baguette and liked the nutty flavor. And I should warn you to be picky about the pumpkin you pick for this. My dear farmer friend at the market wasn’t sure whether “little pumpkin” meant pumpkin pie pumpkin, so I cooked it alongside the true pie pumpkin from the grocery store. I think little pumpkin was meant for ye little doorstep (fairly stringy and flavorless once roasted). Go for the pie pumpkin or sweet pumpkin.

And don’t worry about the pumpkin burning. Cook it for at least an hour and the skin will blacken and separate from the meat — which is good. Very good. You can serve it fancifully in bowls or — as my husband and I did this weekend — dig into it with forkfuls until you’re about to burst.

I adapted the recipe from Streaming Gourmet’s rendition, which is for 2 to 4 servings instead of 8 and uses ingredients us half-gourmets are more likely to have around the house (half-and-half instead of heavy cream, more Gruyère, less Emmental),

You will need:

  • 1 7-inch piece of baguette (or hearty, grainy bread if you prefer)
  • 1 3 1/2 lb pumpkin
  • 3/4 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups Gruyère cheese
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Do this:

1. Preheat the oven to 450˚F (You can lower it later if it’s really burning)

2. Cut the baguette into one-inch slices and cut those into cubes. Lay them on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven until golden brown, about 7 minutes.

3. Mix the half-and-half, broth and nutmeg together. (I would add some salt, too.)

4. Cut the top off of the pumpkin (carefully!) and scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp. (save the seeds and roast them!) Place a layer of bread on the bottom. Layer about 1/3 of the cheese on top of the bread and pour about 1/3 of the chicken broth mixture on top. Repeat with two more layers. Place the top back on the pumpkin and brush the outside of the pumpkin with olive oil.

5. IMPORTANT: Place the pumpkin in a baking pan (to catch possible cheese drippings that leak out the bottom) sprayed with nonstick cooking spray and place in the oven. Bake for about an hour, maybe 1 1/4 hours. The pumpkin should get charred a little bit. Don’t worry. But if you think it’s over-charring, reduce the heat to 350˚F and just keep on baking until time is up.

6. Do a few extra scrapes of nutmeg on the grater to garnish and serve immediately. Add salt as needed.

Aren’t they just the cutest little fall thing you’ve ever seen? They’re almost too good looking to eat. Oh, but wait…

Yep, it’s as yummy as it looks. So, quick, go rescue a pumpkin from a life of slow rottenness on your porch and eat it! With cheese!

Happy fall.

(And if I don’t write for a while, it’s because I’ve probably driven myself into an accident gawking at the GORGEOUS fall colors Virginia’s trees have to offer. I swear my favorite one is the color of neon peach-os…)

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