Autumn is a time of harvest and gathering to celebrate the cornucopia of America's bounty. Despite this, vegetarian mains on the Thanksgiving table are usually a sad substitute for the classic roast turkey. This year choose to embrace the variety of textures, flavors, and colors found at the fall farmers market by preparing a vegetarian stuffed pumpkin, impressive enough to intrigue the entire table. Build the stuffing with hearty greens, earthy mushrooms, savory herbs, toothsome cornbread, and nutty Gruyère cheese, and then bake it inside a fairytale pumpkin for a stunning holiday centerpiece.
Why Stuff a Pumpkin?
With all of the beautiful heirloom pumpkins available, it is a shame to leave them languishing after Halloween. Don't bother buying a $200 gourd-shaped tureen to serve at your fall feast — instead pick up a Cinderella or fairytale pumpkin and fill it with a hearty bread stuffing. The sweet pumpkin flesh is filled with a cornbread stuffing that includes two types of mushrooms and strands of kale. It's bound with just the right amount of egg and cream for the texture of a hearty bread pudding. Shredded Gruyère cheese sprinkled over top melts and turns golden after a few minutes under the broiler, while the orange hue of the pumpkin skin brightens and blisters under the heat. With all the classic flavors of Thanksgiving, this vegetarian main dish won't feel like an afterthought, and even die-hard carnivores will be wrangling for a bite of this taste of fall.
For Your Information
- Pick up a Cinderella, fairytale, or other squat pumpkin from the grocery store or farm stand. You'll want a pumpkin in the seven-to eight-pound range.
- Fill your shopping basket with autumn's bounty: fresh and dried mushrooms, kale, thyme, sage, a hunk of Gruyère, and a bottle of dry white wine. The rest of the ingredients are likely in your pantry or fridge already.
- The pumpkin bakes for two hours, then gets sprinkled with cheese and broiled until browned and bubbly.
Cornbread Is the Best Choice for Stuffing
Cornbread is a quick bread made from cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, milk, and a fat (butter, vegetable oil, and bacon grease have all made it into my skillet at one time or another). The beauty of cornbread is its versatility: Sweeten it with a little sugar, add cayenne for a kick, or make it gluten-free by removing the flour. For this stuffing, begin with your favorite cornbread recipe (or buy it from the store!), and cut it into 1/2-inch pieces to make sure every forkful has a bite of the bread, mushrooms, and kale.
To stale the cornbread, simply make or buy cornbread a day in advance and leave it on the counter uncovered. Tender, crumbly cornbread soaks up the egg and cream custard and has a slightly sweet flavor that complements the fruity pumpkin. If you prefer to substitute a country-style or sourdough loaf, make an even exchange — if you go this route, you may have to add slightly more custard since those breads are chewier than cornbread.
Step-by-Step Guide to Vegetarian Stuffed Pumpkin
- Soak dried mushrooms and then chop them. With just a quick soak, dried porcini mushrooms add a bit of luxury to the stuffing. Once pliable, chop into small pieces so that you'll get a taste of their intense meatiness in every bite.
- Hollow out and season the pumpkin. Just as you would prepare a jack-o'-lantern, cut a wide lid from the top of the pumpkin and use a large, sturdy spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to ensure the pumpkin is as flavorful as the stuffing you add.
- Cook the vegetables for the stuffing. A large, hot skillet is essential for browning the mushrooms and wilting the kale. Sure, there will be brown bits left on the bottom of the pan, but with a splash of white wine, a scrape, and a stir, that flavor mixes back in.
- Mix the vegetables, cornbread, and custard. Toss the mushroom and kale mixture with cornbread, cheese, and herbs. Bind the stuffing with a custard made from eggs, heavy cream, mustard, and nutmeg.
- Stuff the pumpkin. Scoop the stuffing into the seasoned pumpkin before replacing the lid on top.
- Bake the stuffed pumpkin and broil a cheesy topping. You'll have to bake about 2 hours until the stuffing is cooked and the pumpkin is tender. Finish by sprinkling shredded Gruyère over the top of the stuffing and broiling until browned and bubbly.
How to Serve a Stuffed Pumpkin
A stunning presentation is half the reason for preparing this recipe, so you'll want to carefully transfer it to a platter. For the best-looking plate, slice into thick wedges so every serving has a hearty amount of mushrooms, kale, and cornbread, not to mention tender, sweet pumpkin. A more homestyle approach is to serve the stuffing by heaping spoonful while making sure to scrape some of the pumpkin with each scoop.
With the autumnal bounty available, there's no reason why a vegetarian main has to be a pale imitation of roast turkey. Save the faux pumpkins for the fireplace mantle, because everyone will want a view of this edible stuffed pumpkin centerpiece.
How To Make a Vegetarian Stuffed Pumpkin Masterpiece
Serves 8 to 10
What You Need
dried porcini mushrooms
large baking pumpkin, such a fairytale or Cinderella (7 to 8 pounds)
1 1/2 teaspoons
kosher salt, divided
freshly ground black pepper, divided
stale cornbread (12 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
grated Gruyère cheese (6 ounces), divided
coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
coarsely chopped fresh sage leaves
medium onion, sliced
cremini mushrooms (6 ounces), trimmed, halved, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
cloves garlic, minced
coarsely chopped kale leaves (2 ounces)
dry white wine, such as pinot gris (optional)
freshly grated nutmeg
Measuring cups and spoons
Knife and cutting board
Kitchen shears (optional)
Rimmed baking sheet
Heat the oven. Arrange a rack in the bottom third of the oven, remove any racks above it, and heat to 350°F.
Soak dried mushrooms in hot water until soft, then finely chop. Soak the porcini mushrooms in 1 1/2 cups of hot water until soft and pliable, about 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the soaking water and finely chop. Reserve 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid (avoiding any sediment on the bottom) if not using wine for deglazing the skillet in step 5.
Wash, remove the top, hollow out, and season the pumpkin. Wash and dry the pumpkin. Carefully cut a wide lid off of the top by working your knife around the stem at a 45-degree angle until you've cut all the way around and the lid comes off. A wide opening makes it easier to fill and serve the pumpkin, so err on the side of a large lid rather than a small one. Cut the stringy bits and seeds off of the lid with a knife or kitchen shears. Scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh until the pumpkin cavity is hollow and smooth. Season the inside of the pumpkin and the lid with 3/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet.
Combine the cornbread, cheese, and herbs. Place the cornbread, 2 1/2 cups of the Gruyère cheese, thyme, and sage in a large bowl and toss to combine; set aside.
Sauté the vegetables for the filling. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cook until softened and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally, until seared with a golden-brown crust, about 4 minutes. Add the kale and cook until bright green and wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine or reserved porcini soaking liquid and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute.
Toss the mushroom mixture with the cornbread mixture. Transfer the mushroom mixture to bowl with the cornbread and toss to combine.
Make the custard and pour into stuffing mixture. Whisk the eggs, cream, mustard, nutmeg, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the stuffing mixture and stir until just moistened.
Stuff the pumpkin. Spoon the stuffing into the prepared pumpkin and replace the lid.
Bake the pumpkin. Bake the pumpkin until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean and an instant-read thermometer registers 160°F, about 2 hours. The filling should be bubbling and brown, and the pumpkin will be tender and easily pierced with a knife.
Top with cheese and broil. Remove the lid and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of Gruyère. Turn the broiler to HIGH and broil until the cheese is browned and bubbly, 5 to 7 minutes.
Transfer pumpkin to a platter and serve. Use 2 sturdy spatulas to carefully lift the pumpkin off of the baking sheet and transfer to a serving platter. To serve, scoop the filling and a generous portion of the pumpkin onto plates, or cut the pumpkin and filling into generous wedges.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Make ahead: The pumpkin can be hollowed and seasoned up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated. The cornbread can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.