“If it doesn’t work, we’ll order pizza.”
I’m experimenting with dinner. A year or so ago I found a recipe for a stuffed-and-baked pumpkin. I clipped it and pondered.
Last week, I saw a whole section on stuffed-and-baked pumpkins in Food Network magazine. More pondering.
And today,The Wall Street Journal‘s weekend section had a long story on … yes … stuffed pumpkins.
I take it as a sign, even though my family’s not so sure.
“What are you doing again?” my husband asks as I scrape the guts out of a 4-pound sugar pumpkin.
“I hope this doesn’t work,” the little boy mutters as he walks through the kitchen.
I have no idea if it will or not. Like I said, I’m experimenting. But after reading a few recipes for stuffed-and-baked pumpkins, I think I’ve got the technique down.
I’ve decided to do a riff on butternut squash risotto, with the whole pumpkin standing in for the squash. My thought is that I’ll use the usual risotto ratios (https://dinnerbysusan.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/your-kitchen-is-a-playground/), but let the rice absorb its liquid inside my pumpkin. My hope is that the pumpkin will emerge from the oven holding a mound of fragrant, toothsome rice. We’ll scoop out bits of pumpkin as we eat the risotto for a new twist on a favorite dish.
I get to work and soften an 8-ounce package of dried mushrooms in 1 cup of boiling water. While the mushrooms soften, I cut the top off the pumpkin and scrape the gourd completely clean. Then I rub 2 tablespoons of butter on the inside and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.
I place my 4-pounder in a 9X13-inch, parchment-lined metal casserole pan and move on to the filling:
I saute 1 onion, salt and pepper in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Then I add 1 large minced garlic clove, 1 minced fresh sage leaf, 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary and a pinch of saffron. After those aromatics cook for about a minute, I add 3/4 cup of Arborio rice and saute it for 2 minutes. Then I remove the mushrooms from their softening liquid, chop them and add them to the mix.
I carefully spoon the rice-and-mushroom mixture into the pumpkin. Then I sprinkle 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese on top of it.
Liquid comes next. I take the mushroom soaking liquid (there’s about 1/2 cup in my measuring cup) and add 1/4 cup of dry vermouth. I pour that into the pumpkin along with one 14.5-ounce can of chicken broth. I cover everything with foil and carefully — carefully — place it in a 350-degree oven for 2 hours.
It smells good as it bakes, although I still have no believers.
“Hmmmmm,” the husband says. “We’ll see.”
“I hope this doesn’t work out,” the big boy mutters as he comes up the stairs.
Two hours later, it’s show time.
“Please, please, please,” I whisper as I carefully lift the foil off the baking dish.
The pumpkin is tender and burnished orange. But while the rice has expanded, it hasn’t absorbed much liquid. I taste some, and it’s way too firm and starchy.
“Well?” the husband calls from the family room.
“Do we get pizza?” the little boy asks.
“I don’t know yet,” I answer. I figure the rice hasn’t absorbed the liquid because it essentially steamed under the foil cover. I shower the top of the pumpkin with a bit more Parmesan, then put it back in the oven — sans foil — for 15 minutes.
“Please, please, please,” I whisper as I open the oven 15 minutes later.
Yes! The rice has plumped up, and the liquid is gone (helped by the fact that a bit has leached out where the pumpkin skin has given way). I dish up the risotto and a bit of pumpkin on each plate, pair it with an arugula and apple salad, and wait to hear the verdicts.
“Hmm,” the husband says as he takes a bite. “Oh. Wow. This is good.”
“This is some of the best rice I’ve tasted,” the big boy says.
“It’s fine,” says the little one. “I’d prefer pizza.”
The dish is fine. The rice is al dente; the pumpkin silky and slightly sweet. I ask the most important question:
“Should I make this again?”
Three nods. But I’ll make some changes next time. I’ll season the pumpkin skin with a bit more salt and pepper. Same for the Arborio. And I’ll take the foil off after an hour-and-a-half to see if I can get the rice to absorb its liquid within the allotted cooking time. I’ll also use a different squash … probably a Kobocha, which has a more pronounced flavor than pumpkin.
All in all, a successful experiment. We had something new for dinner. I fed my stuffed-and-baked-pumpkin yen. And we didn’t have to shell out $20 for pizza.