The folks I work with at Vee Vee deserve a prize for most welcome dinner guests ever. Nothing like a crew of servers at a dinner party – they gracefully light the candles, clear the tables, pour the wine, and even wash the dishes. As if that weren’t more than enough to be invited back again and again, they also bring you awesome housewarming gifts like the River Cottage Cookbook. This thick book, by British writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, has been on my wish list for a while. Part cookbook, part how to guide for the gardener, farmer, fisherman, and forager, it’s provided me with ample bedtime reading the last few weeks. I especially enjoyed the description of a method for keeping free-range chickens safe from predators that involves building a rickety ladder into the hen house that only a chicken could climb, and then teaching the poor chicken to climb said rickety ladder. Hilarious. I’m already plotting to get some chickens of my own.
Chicken tricks aside, the River Cottage Cookbook is brimming with simple farm-style recipes for everything from perfect mashed potatoes, to blood sausage, to elderberry wine. One of the first recipes to catch my eye was for this baked pumpkin “soup” – essentially a hollow pumpkin filled with gruyere and cream, baked until soft, and then carefully ladled/scooped into soup bowls. The prospect of putting a full pumpkin, stem and all, into the oven was too much for me to resist. I grabbed a small sugar pumpkin and declared it dinner.
45 minutes later I was holding an adorable steaming pumpkin full of delicious creamy goodness. The “soup” is like a liquid pumpkin gratin; rich and satisfying. Pumpkin itself isn’t my favorite squash – I usually find it to be a little bland and watery. The soup, I think, would taste even better with another more flavorful type of winter squash – acorn or buttercup maybe. But then again, there’s a certain charm to the pumpkin, especially this time of year. Halloween dinner anyone?
As far as recipes go, this couldn’t be easier, though Mr. Whittingstall does warn that the bigger your pumpkin the greater the risk it will collapse completely in the oven, leaving you with a colossal creamy-cheesy mess. I would definitely avoid jack-o-lantern sized pumpkins here – even if your pumpkin emerged in one piece, just the vast quantity of cream and cheese you would need to fill it seems a little extreme. One small-medium sugar pumpkin serves 4-6.
I also included a recipe for spicy toasted pumpkin seeds below to put all that scooping to good use. Use the seeds from any winter squash – eat them as a snack while you wait for you soup to bake or sprinkle a few on top for crunch.
For the Soup
1 small-medium sugar pumpkin
3 to 4 oz coarsely grated gruyere cheese
1 ½ to 2 cups half and half
1 tbsp butter
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the top off the pumpkin. Scrape out the seeds and reserve for toasting. Scrape out any stringy pumpkin pieces using a spoon. Fill the pumpkin 1/3 with grated cheese and about 2/3 with half and half – I used 3 oz cheese and 1 ½ cups cream for my pumpkin. Add the butter and grate a little fresh nutmeg into the cream. Season with salt and pepper and replace the lid. Place the filled pumpkin on an edged baking sheet incase of leakage and bake until the flesh of the pumpkin is quite soft – 45 minutes to 1 hour.
To Serve: Remove the top of your pumpkin and ladle the cream mixture evenly between 4 serving bowls. Using a spoon, gently scrape out the soft pumpkin flesh and top each bowl with a few pieces of pumpkin. Top with a little more freshly grated nutmeg and serve.
Spicy Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Seeds from 1 small-medium sugar pumpkin
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ to ½ tsp salt
Less than ¼ tsp each:
Ground chipotle pepper
Ground cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pick out any pumpkin flesh from the seed and discard. Rinse the seeds and pat them dry with a clean dish towel. Place the seeds on a baking tray or heavy pan and drizzle over the olive oil. Add the salt and spices and toss to combine. Bake 10 minutes, stir, and then continue baking an additional 5-10 minutes until golden and dry.