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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Smashing Pumpkins




Okay, this is embarrassing.   Just when the houses next door are festooned with juniper and spruce and twinkling like so many stars in the night sky, here I find myself brushing snow off a pair of pumpkins at my front doorsteps. 
Obviously, I’m not much for seasonal decor. 
My late uptake on pumpkins is the studied indifference that goes with the territory of a Jewish household on a street lit up like. . . so many Christmas trees. 

Don’t get me wrong, I can be as festive as the holiday season calls for - in a gastronomic and economic sense. In all the sound and flurry of retail, cocktail and social activity, I have nothing but admiration for those who knock themselves out “getting ready,” making lists, sending greeting cards, visiting Santa, chopping trees, hanging ornaments, exchanging cookies, baking stollen, stuffing stockings, drinking eggnog, roasting chestnuts, singing carols, flying home for the holidays.   
It’s all delicious. All merry and good for hearts and souls.   And not to be confused in any way with actual religious belief. 
No offense to anyone, but we all know that the “miracle of lights” we celebrate on Chanukah doesn’t hold a candle to the dynamic and magic and outright seduction of Christmas. 

Really. How many Hanukah songs do we sing? How many Hanukah pageants do we attend?  How many Chanukkah ballets, ice shows and TV specials have we ever seen?   
And for god-sake, how many ways are there to spell Channukah, anyway?
We all know Christmas to be this: our national holiday.  Time off.  School out. Game on.  Time to be with family. Time to travel. Time to binge.  A wonderful time of the year, fa-la-and ho-ho and all that.  Com’on, Christmastime is universal, ubiquitous, inescapable.  

Personally? With apologies to no one,  I cruise through the season in neutral gear, stress-free. Without pressure to perform, host or entertain, I can delight in Christmas wrappings and trappings, savor all its flavors, shopping for presents as I wish (or not),  partaking in as much of the festivity (sans nativity) or as little as I wish.  No frets. No sweat. 

So what’s this about pumpkins leftover from HallowThanksgiving?  
I brought them inside last weekend. Noticing they had been fairly well preserved in the chill of the month of November, I recalled a recipe, I had seen a while back in a beautiful cookbook at Joseph-Beth Booksellers (alas, a Cleveland indie bookstore that filed for Chapter 11 last year ). 
A google search revealed the book to be Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan,  and the recipe:  Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good.
Well I don’t know where (beside my doorstep) you can still get a pumpkin at this time of year, but keep this recipe in mind for next fall or try it with  a good sized winter squash. . . for a festive holiday side. 


Ingredients:
1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
About a quarter pound stale bread, (sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks a good challah or egg-rich brioche works well) 
1/4 pound cheese, such as Gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 shallots, finely chopped
2–4 garlic cloves (to taste), split, germ removed, and coarsely chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp, drained, and chopped (I used Canadian bacon cut into thin strips)
About 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives or sliced scallions
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
More than a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Better lighting?  Better food styling?  More salt?
My carved pumpkin didn't turn out to be as pretty as the picture in the
cookbook, (see photo above by Alan Richardson)
but indeed, it was stuffed with everything good.  
 
Prep:
  • Preheat oven 350 degrees
  • Use caution as you deploy a heavy knife to carve the cap out of the pumpkin. 
  • Scoop out the seeds and strings from the cap and from the inside of the pumpkin.
  • Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper. 
  • Saute the onion, garlic and Canadian bacon in olive oil.  
  • In a bowl, toss sauteed ingredients together with the bread, cheese and fresh herbs, and pack the mixture into the pumpkin.
  • Stir cream with the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and pour into the pumpkin
  • Put the cap on the pumpkin and bake on a cookie sheet for about two hours, or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh is softened enough to be pierced with a knife. (You might want to remove the cap for the last 20 minutes of baking to allow the stuffing to brown to a golden turn.)
To serve: scoop out the stuffing with generous amounts of pumpkin, or cut into slices. 

For more: go to to epicurious.com
Photos: VHenoch (amateur), Alan Richardson (the professional) 
Thanks for dropping in


(See? Stacking up a few things for the holidays at my son's house,
 where Christmas is celebrated along with Hannukah.)



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