Patti Bess: Turkey talk? What about the pumpkin?
Many years ago, at Thanksgiving, my parents visited me from the Midwest. I had been living in Santa Cruz for two years. While passing through Half Moon Bay on a leisurely drive from the San Francisco airport, we spotted a field full of forlorn looking pumpkins — obvious rejects of the “jack-o-lantern” markets. Much to the surprise of my passengers, I parked the car and ran into the fields with the passion of a skid row religious zealot on a rescue mission filling the already overloaded VW with not one but many of the glorious orange orbs.
It was my first year to have the pleasure of serving my parents a Thanksgiving dinner in my “quite funky” home. And, of course, I wanted it to be special. What a surprise when out of the oven came a Stuffed Pumpkin!
There are many varieties of pumpkins most of which are grown for their size and uniformity for the Halloween markets such as the Big Max, Big Tom, Jack O ‘Lantern, and the Funny Face. Those could be used for the following recipe, but the better pumpkins for cooking are the Connecticut Field, Sweet Sugar and the Winter Luxury. They have more meat than carving pumpkins and are less stringy. Cooking pumpkins are more available in markets now a days, and it’s easy to distinguish them as they are smaller and denser.
The pumpkin was perhaps not on the menu for that first Thanksgiving celebration. Though the Indians raised some pumpkins and brought them as gifts to the Pilgrims, it is doubtful that they knew as yet what to do with this formidable vegetable. Later, colonists learned how easy it was to grow and used it extensively as sauce and in bread as well as pie.
Saying Americans love their pumpkin pies is a little like saying the sky is blue. It seems to be the only way we prepare it, but in other countries the pumpkin is used much more extensively than here in the U.S. Spicy pumpkin based soups are common in the West Indies. Curried pumpkin is popular in Thailand. (Sopa Thai restaurant in Nevada City makes a delicious Pumpkin Curry.) If you visited a local vegetable market in central Europe or southern Spain, a chunk of pumpkin might be included in the soup greens you bought.
The pumpkin has been grossly underestimated as a food source. It is an excellent source of vitamin A as its color reveals (Vitamin A is often present in orange or yellow foods) and is rich in potassium, magnesium and other minerals. Pumpkin is low in calories largely because of its high water content.
It’s a little too late for tomorrow’s feast, but consider this wonderfully dramatic (and nutritious) main dish for your next holiday get together. You may have to complete the meal with an apple pie instead.
One medium-size cooking pumpkin, approximately (6 to 8 pounds)
Two tablespoons each of olive oil, soy sauce and lemon juice
One medium-size eggplant
Three cups vegetable or chicken stock
One cup long grain rice
One medium onion, chopped
Butter or olive oil to sauté
Three small carrots, sliced
Two small zucchini, halved and sliced
One can kidney beans or one cup cooked beans
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup sunflower seeds or walnuts
Two to four cloves garlic, minced
One teaspoon basil
Three quarters teaspoon of both oregano and thyme
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Lemon juice (optional)
Cut a seven to eight inch circle out of the top of the pumpkin. Carefully scrape out all the seeds and thready pulp. When pumpkin is thoroughly cleaned, marinate the insides with olive oil, soy sauce and lemon juice. Set aside
To prepare the stuffing: Bake eggplant whole for 20 minutes. Cut up other vegetables into bite-size pieces. Sauté the carrots, onion, zucchini and spices in a small amount of olive oil. Cube the softened eggplant.
Combine all ingredients–the sautéed vegetables, cubed eggplant, rice, seeds, beans and remaining stock (however much you think you need). Re-adjust the salt and pepper. Toss lightly and fill the pumpkin. A little lemon juice is a nice option.
Replace the lid, fitting it exactly as it was cut out, and put the pumpkin in a shallow baking dish. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for one to one and ½ hours or until pumpkin is soft to the touch. (Pumpkin can be pre-baked for 30 minutes which cuts down on the time the stuffing must cook, but it is not necessary to do this.)
Serve very hot, scooping out generous amounts of the filling and scraping some soft pumpkin from the inside with each helping. Garnish with chopped chives or grated parmesan cheese (optional). Serves 6 to 8.
Patti Bess is a freelance writer and recipe developer. She lives in Grass Valley.
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