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Author Notes: It's probably too late for this season, but this is a huge favorite in my house. After eating baked stuffed pumpkin at a restaurant, I scoured my cookbooks for a recipe. I found one in The River Cottage cookbook, which I dearly love - but it called for something like 4 cups of cream and 2 cups of grated cheese. I'm not a fat-phobe in the least, but that seemed a bit excessive. Around My French Table has a recipe that uses bread and bacon in the stuffing - but it was for a whole, large pumpkin to feed a crowd, and I never got around to trying it. One weeknight, finding myself with a small sunshine kabocha, I scaled down the recipe and it turned out great, but the squash was a little undercooked. I've made it several times since then, tweaking the recipe to pre-bake the squash and adding leeks and thyme. It's a cozy dinner for two with a salad and a glass of wine. I use small red kuri or kabocha for this when I can find them, but I've also made it with pie pumpkins and acorn squash - any sweet-fleshed winter squash will do. For the cheese I use a mix of Gruyere and Fontina, but you can use either one and I've also thrown in grated firm mozzarella if I had some around and it's great with that too. I use mutligrain or sourdough bread here, you want something chewy and rustic. This comes together in about an hour, a bit long for a weeknight but do-able depending on your day. —Arathi
- 1 small winter squash, about 5-6 inches in diameter
- 2 thick slices your favorite rustic bread
- 1 large leek, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into thin half-moons
- 1/4 cup cream
- 3/4 cup grated cheese (I use a mix of Gruyere and Fontina)
- 2 slices bacon, cut into thin strips
- 3 fat cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Leaves from 1-2 sprigs thyme
- 1 large pinch red chile flakes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. While its preheating, prepare the squash: cut it in half and scoop out the seeds and as much pulp as you can. Season the cavity in both halves lightly with salt and pepper. Place the squash halves on a baking sheet, cut side down, and put in the oven to roast while you prepare the stuffing (about 20 minutes).
- Cut bread slices into 3/4 inch cubes and toast until the edges are brown and crisp. (You can toast the bread in the oven with the squash for about 8-10 minutes, or before the squash, or in the pan with the bacon fat after you crisp the bacon). Let cool.
- Cook the bacon in a frying pan until crisp. Remove from pan and drain. Pour of most of the fat from the pan, leaving about a tablespoon.
- Add the butter to the pan and when it's melted, add leeks, thyme and red chile flakes. Cook until leeks are softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
- By this time, your squash should have been roasting for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, leaving the oven on, and let cool slightly while you mix the filling.
- In a medium bowl, toss the toasted bread, bacon, and leek-garlic mixture together. Add the cheese, pour over the cream and a pinch of black pepper and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Turn the squash halves over to cut side up, being careful not to burn yourself (you can use a couple of forks or tongs for this). If the cavities are not very large, you can scoop out some more flesh if you like, it will be more tender and easier to do. But do leave some flesh in, you want to taste the squash and filling together. Spoon the filling into each half, pressing down to get as much filling in as you can.
- Cover squash halves loosely with foil, return to oven and bake 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake 5 minutes more, until filling starts to brown on top. Snack on any leftover filling while you wait.
- Remove from oven and serve hot. This is a pretty filling dish, depending on your appetite you can share one half, wrap the other half tightly in foil and store in the fridge. Reheat it, still wrapped in foil, the next day.