Stuffed Full of Squash

I was not going to share this article with you because of what happened but then thought that perhaps I should.  Most food blogs only show you the most perfect,  “delicious and amazing” recipes coming out of xxx’s kitchen, complete with the perfect food porn photography and drool-inducing descriptions.

Life isn’t always that way though, I think a real person has successes and failures in the kitchen but we the audience never seem to ever hear about the flops or failures or the “meh” of it all.  So, in the spirit of keeping it real, here is my recent flop.  Well, sort of flop.

I have had a pumpkin from my CSA box from the Fall and it  became part of my Christmas decorations.

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I have decided that I would roast it stuffed full of tasty things, inspired by my friend Laura’s recipe from Hey What’s For Dinner Mom?.

Laura’s recipe is meatless and uses quinoa but I had some fancy pants sausages and was out of quinoa, so I checked in with my friends at the recipe swap. The recipe they suggested is by Dorie Greenspan and uses bread which is perfect because I have some artisan sourdough slab about to go stale so I adapted both recipes into my dinner.

Mis en place

Stuffed Pumpkin

1 sugar pie pumpkin, seeded
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1/2 loaf Della Trattoria Meyer lemon and rosemary bread, torn into smallish chunks
2 chicken and spinach sausages
2 Tbl pork fat
1 large leek
1/4 pound mushrooms
A bunch of dino kale
1/4 c white wine
1/3 c heavy cream (I used sour cream thinned with milk)
4 slices leftover bacon
1/2 grated Peccorino Romano
Sage leaves
1/3 bunch of parsley
6 cloves of Garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper

I cut out the stem end of the pumpkin using a sharp knife like you would to make a jack o’lantern, and then cut off the strings on the cap with the chef’s knife and set the lid aside.

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Now for evisceration.  I scooped out seeds and pulp with an ice cream scoop but you can use a sturdy metal spoon.  Save those seeds if you like roasted pumpkin seeds. I was not in the mood so into the compost bin they went.  Usually this step is gooey and messy, but my pumpkin wasn’t all that gooey inside.  I should have paid more attention to this fact, but onwards I went.

I put the hollowed pumpkin on a baking sheet lined with foil and seasoned the cavity with salt and pepper and olive oil.  I poured in the oil and then threw in the salt and pepper and smeared it all around with my hands; they are Nature’s best spatula!

Olive oil, salt & pepper the inside well

Then I started assembling the stuffing ingredients. I used my Wovo salad bowl but any large bowl will do; toss in the leftover bacon and the sausages chopped into small pieces.

Leftover chopped bacon

It is hard to believe I had leftover bacon but it happens!

Aidell's chicken spinach & feta sausage, chopped

I chopped up the parsley rather roughly and added that to the bowl too along with the smashed garlic cloves and the grated cheese and a few dried porcini.

Picnik collage

On the stove heat I heated up a large frying pan and melted the pork fat (or use olive oil or bacon fat or butter, it’s up to you).  The leek was halved lengthwise, then into cut into slices about an 1/8″ thick, put in a colander and washed them well.  I like washing the leeks after they are cut because it’s easier to get the mud out if they are dirty. Lately our leeks have been really dirty. Heh.

Picnik collage

With just some of the water shaken off, I tipped the leeks into the hot frying pan and added a few pinches of salt. A swift stir with the spatula then I grabbed a clean cutting mat and sliced up the mushrooms and add them to the leeks.  Lastly, I grabbed the sheaf of kale leaves and chopped off the stems into smallish pieces and added them to the frying pan.

They all cooked together until everything was very tender.  Meanwhile, I had a glass of wine and then attacked the kale leaves. Whack-whack-whack I went with my largest chef knife to chop them roughly.  Once the other veggies were tender, I added the kale and put on the lid for a minute or two until the kale has wilted a bit.  Wine in hand I tossed and sauted the kale and vegetables until the kale was completely tender.  I let the mixture cool a little bit.  So far everything looked and tasted great, good levels of salt, the veggies were all fork-ready.  My stomach growled.

Picnik collage
(L-R: kale stems, leeks, mushrooms sauteing; a rough chop; the kale will fill the pan up but it cooks down to nothing)

Meanwhile it was time for the heart of the stuffing, the bread. I purchased this loaf of bread on a Saturday it was now Tuesday so it was just this side of being stale, perfect for a stuffing.

You could just chop it but I like the rough texture of hand-torn bread so I sliced the bread, then took a seat and over the bowl I ripped up the bread into small pieces, about 1/2″.

Della Trattoria bread ready to be shredded

The stuffing was almost done, I just needed the cream and wine and a few herbs, salt and pepper. A quick toss with my hands I was ready to stuff my pumpkin. Since this stuffing does not have egg or raw meat I was able to taste a few pieces to make sure the seasoning was right on. I wanted it to be a little heavy on the salt to offset the pumpkin which is essentially bland and would be mixed into the filling.

The stuffing for my pumpkin. Yum.

I really packed it in and it all just barely fit!

Stuffed and ready for the oven #2

Don’t forget to put its hat on!

Don't forget to put its hat on!

Isn’t that beautiful?!  Into the oven it went, at 350 for 90 minutes. I checked it then and the pumpkin was still not fork-tender so I let it go for another 30 minutes. At last a fork just slid easily through the side of the pumpkin and it smelled so aromatic with the herbs and garlic I could barely contain myself.

Ready to serve!

I pulled out the stuffing first, and sneaked a bite. Hmmm. It was delicious but not all moist and steamy like I expected.

Finished stuffing

I scooped out the pumpkin and despite it being fork tender the flesh was rigid and oddly firm. I scraped all of it out into a bowl and tasted it – it was fine but dry and more starchy and did not have the squashy pumpkin texture it should have.  Hmmm, when did I get that pumpkin again?  I realized I couldn’t remember.

Pumpkin and stuffing

Huhmmm. I sat a bit and thought and thought. And then I remembered. This pumpkin was not from November, it was from October or perhaps earlier and in my overheated apartment it probably had completely dried out and converted its sugars into starches. Whoops!

I tried steaming the flesh a bit in a steamer on the stove but realized that it really needed to be used in a soup or something. This explained why the stuffing seemed so dry. The pumpkin, which normally would have exuded lots of juices while cooking, was essentially dessicated and therefore the stuffing had the consistency of being baked in a dish and did not get hydrated from its squashy container. If I had intended to bake the stuffing in a casserole I would have added a lot more liquid and covered it while baking to emulate the interior of poultry or other moist cavity.

Craptastic.

My dinner was completely salvageable though. I added about a cup of leftover chicken broth I had and another good slosh of wine to the stuffing and put it in a small casserole dish and covered it foil to bake for 30 minutes. Taking it out of the oven, I peeked under the foil and stood back as a cloud of steam erupted. I realized this was the stuffing I had expected. The mushrooms and garlic were soft and tender, the bread had that pleasant squish of being amalgamated with wine and cream and broth and the generous flecks of greens and chunks of bacon and sausage were like firm nuggets within each bite. It was delicious despite the absence of the pumpkin!

I saved the pumpkin for my next batch of soup. Lesson learned. I hope you try stuffing a pumpkin or other squash but please do make sure it is not Paleolithic in age!!

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