by Kaitlyn Goalen
photographs by Jillian Clark
Folks, we’ve turned pumpkins into the Miley Cyrus of autumn eating.
Once upon a time, pumpkins were cherished totems of the season, embraced with fervor by children in costumes. And while vestiges of that innocence still exist, popping up each Halloween like a Hannah Montana rerun, it’s been all but swallowed up by a new image: “pumpkin spice.” Like Miley’s wagging tongue, pumpkin spice follows us from latte to doughnut to beer. The flavor is ubiquitous and over-the-top, and tastes nothing like the ingredient for which it’s named.
And that’s the shame of it, because actual pumpkins and their winter squash ilk (all part of the Cucurbitaceae family), should be the centerpiece of your cooking this month. No need to wait until Thanksgiving: make a pumpkin pie this weekend (and give it a twist by using coconut milk instead of the stalwart evaporated milk, or by throwing sorghum into the filling instead of granulated sugar). Swap out the butternut squash in your favorite soup recipe for an heirloom like red kuri squash or Jarrahdale pumpkin.
Or do as I do: Let the natural vessel-like nature of pumpkins and squash work to your advantage by stuffing them full of your favorite things and roasting them whole. I like to mix stale bread with whatever is left in my fridge (the ends of a cheese plate, for example, or the last of a package of bacon), stuff the mixture into a pumpkin (or, for individual portions, acorn squash), top the mixture with cream, and bake until the squash is tender and practically melting into a cheesy, molten center.
My comparison ends here: Miley, under all the pageantry and gyrating, has a killer voice. Pumpkin spice, likewise, harkens back to a vegetable worth honoring. Let’s get back to the source.
Stuffed Acorn Squash
This recipe is very much a template that can be customized to your taste. Swap the cheese (blue cheese would be delicious), swap spinach for kale, or bacon for sausage. You could even swap the bread for partially cooked rice; it’ll resemble a gorgeous risotto after being roasted.
2 small pumpkins or 4 acorn squash
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces button mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups cubed day-old bread (such as sourdough or country loaf)
1 ounce sharp cheddar, cut into small cubes
1 ounce Gruyere, cut into small cubes
1 ounce Fontina, cut into small cubes
3 slices bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces and cooked until crispy (optional)
1 cup spinach leaves, torn into bite-size pieces (optional)
½ cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Using a sharp knife, make a circular cut around the stems of each acorn squash (as if you were carving the top of a jack-o’-lantern). Remove the tops, and use a spoon to hollow out the squash, discarding the seeds and stringy fibers. Season the insides of the squash with salt and pepper, and set the squash inside a 13-by-9-inch rimmed baking pan.
In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. When it shimmers, add the shallot and garlic. Cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes, and add the mushrooms and thyme. Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms have shrunk in size and are cooked through, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the bread, cheese, bacon (if using), spinach (if using), and reserved mushrooms. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon the bread mixture into the squash cavities, pressing down gently to pack. Divide the cream between the four squash, pouring it slowly into the cavity, then replace the squash tops.
Bake for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until the squash is tender when pierced with a knife. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.