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Tasty filling takes pumpkins from porch to dining room

Stuffed with sweet or savory filling, like this coconut milk-based chicken dish, baked whole pumpkins make for simple yet stunning edible centerpieces. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Stuffed with sweet or savory filling, like this coconut milk-based chicken dish, baked whole pumpkins make for simple yet stunning edible centerpieces. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)

Hollowed, carved and lighted by candles, jack-o’-lanterns are a perfectly fine fit for the front porch.

But the orange, round winter squash might be even more dramatic as a seasonal addition to the dinner table.

Stuffed with sweet or savory filling, baked whole pumpkins make for simple yet stunning edible centerpieces. As a side or main or dessert – or all three – they’re warm and comforting, uncomplicated yet elegant.

Better yet, when it comes to stuffing a pumpkin with savory ingredients, there are nearly no rules. Use your imagination and whatever you have on hand. Play around. Get creative.

Winter greens, like spinach or chard. Peppers. Pancetta. Sausage. Chicken. Beef. Day-old bread. Mushrooms. Carrots. Celery. Leftovers. Rice pilaf. Chicken pot pie. Soup or stew or cheese fondue.

On the sweet side, try pumpkin pie or pumpkin cheesecake or pumpkin mousse – in a pumpkin.

It’s fun to carve eyeballs and a toothy grin into a pumpkin’s thick, ribbed shell. But it might be even more fun to stuff one with some of your favorite ingredients, bake it and eat it all up, scooping out the soft, brightly colored flesh as you go.

Chicken in a Pumpkin Shell

From “Pumpkin” by Joanna Farrow

When I made this dish for a backyard party on a still sunny and warm Saturday afternoon in early October, I threw in additional vegetables – carrots, celery, orange bell peppers – as well as a garnish of fresh, flatleaf parsley. I also used ground cardamom and powdered saffron instead of pods and strands, and those substitutions seemed to work just fine.

As it simmered on the stovetop, the mixture filled the kitchen with the aroma of warming spices. And as I scooped it out, I also scraped the soft flesh from the shell so each bowl had a bit of pumpkin, too.

1 whole pumpkin, 10 to 11 inches in diameter

6 skinned, boneless chicken breasts

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

13 ounces (about 2 large) zucchini, chopped

3 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 teaspoon saffron strands, crumbled

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk

2/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 cinnamon stick, halved

2 tablespoons cardamom pods

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Pierce pumpkin around the top with a skewer. Keep the piercing at the top to avoid the liquid seeping out while serving. (I used a knife and pierced a ring around the top where I planned to later cut the lid.) Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about an hour or until flesh feels quite tender when the top is pierced with a knife.

Meanwhile, chop the chicken into small pieces. Season the flour with salt and pepper and use to coat the chicken. Melt better with oil in a large and heavy-based saucepan and sauté chicken, in batches if necessary, until golden. Remove with slotted spoon.

Add onions, zucchini and bell peppers to the pan and sauté gently for 5 minutes, adding oil if necessary. Return chicken to pan with garlic, saffron, coconut milk, stock and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer gently on the lowest possible heat for 1 hour.

Cut out a lid from the cooked pumpkin and remove it carefully because it will be very hot inside. Scoop out the seeds. (I set them aside to roast later; the directions called for discarding them.)

Season chicken mixture with salt and pepper, then ladle into pumpkin shell to serve.

Alternatively, put it back into the oven at very low heat for up to 1 hour until ready to serve.

Cheese Fondue in a Pumpkin

From streaminggourmet.com

1 small pumpkin

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

8 ounces Madrigal cheese, shredded

8 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded

3 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup shallots, finely chopped

1 cup white wine

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Freshly ground nutmeg, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Paprika, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut top off of pumpkin and scoop out pulp and seeds. Brush inside with olive oil and throw in 2 crushed cloves of garlic. Replace top and bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, place cheeses in a bowl and add the cornstarch. Toss to coat the cheese evenly. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté until translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. (You could skip the shallot step if you’re nervous about it being partially responsible for the not-so-perfect consistency of this recipe. From here on, it’s all traditional.) Reduce heat to low. Add wine and lemon juice and mix with the shallots. About ¼ cup at a time, add the cheese, stirring gently (don’t overstir or it will get stringy). Wait until it has melted completely before adding more cheese.

After all of the cheese is melted and incorporated, remove your hot pumpkin from the oven, pour in the cheese sauce and grate fresh nutmeg and pepper over the top. Add a dash of paprika as well for a little color.

Serve with cubed pears and apples and your favorite white wine.

Yield: 4 servings

Pumpkin Mousse in a Pumpkin

From tasteofhome.com

1 medium pie pumpkin (about 2 pounds)

2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided

1/3 cup vanilla or white chocolate chips

2 tablespoons milk

3 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1/3 cup solid-pack pumpkin

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped

Cut top off pumpkin; scoop out and discard seeds. In small bowl, combine sugar and ½ teaspoon cinnamon; sprinkle inside of pumpkin.

Replace pumpkin top. Place on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until crisp-tender. Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, microwave vanilla chips with milk at 70 percent power; stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

In a bowl, beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Beat in the pumpkin, orange peel, reserved melted chips and remaining cinnamon. Fold in whipped cream. Spoon mixture into pumpkin. Refrigerate leftovers.

Yield: 4 servings

Note: In this recipe, the pumpkin is not fully cooked, in order to better hold its color and shape. It is used as a serving bowl for the mousse, and is not meant to be eaten.

However, this recipe could be easily adapted to make the pumpkin edible. Simply pierce the whole uncooked pumpkin around the top with a skewer or knife. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for about an hour or until flesh feels tender when the top is pierced with a knife. When cool enough to handle, cut out a lid from the top of the cooked pumpkin and remove it carefully. Scoop out the seeds and stringy parts. Cool on a wire rack, then spoon filling into cooled pumpkin.

Tillie’s Pumpkin Pies in Mini Pumpkins

From Tillie Clements via the Orange County Register

12 to 18 mini or baby pumpkins (see notes)

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons pumpkin-pie spice

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1 (29-ounce) can pureed (solid-pack) pumpkin

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

Whipped cream, for serving

Pie-crust leaves, for garnish (optional) (see notes)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut off tops of pumpkins. Scoop out seeds, strings and enough flesh to leave ½-inch of flesh on sides and bottom. Set aside.

In large bowl of electric stand mixer, combine sugar, salt, spice, eggs and pumpkin puree. Beat well to combine. Gradually add cream and milk on low speed. Mix until blended. Fill each pumpkin. Place in baking dish. Add about 1 inch of water to bottom of dish. Place in oven for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees; bake 35 to 45 minutes or until set. Cool 20 minutes before serving. Top with whipped cream and if desired, garnish with pie-crust leaves.

Notes: Some small pumpkins are squatty and deeply fluted; they hold about ¼ cup filling. Slightly larger, smooth-skinned small pumpkins hold about ½ cup filling. Use refrigerated, ready-to-use pie crusts to make leaves for garnish. They are usually packaged two to a box in a 15-ounce package. Cut leaves with sharp knife or use cookie cutter. Use back of knife to create veins in leaves. Place in single layer on nonstick baking sheet. Bake in 350-degree oven until nicely browned.

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