Years ago I was listening to NPR and they were broadcasting an interview with Ruth Reichl. I knew she was the editor of Gourmet magazine, but beyond that I really did not know much else about her. In the interview they were discussing a book she had written (Garlic and Sapphires) about her career as the food critic for the New York Times. The interview was so interesting; I can remember sitting down and listening to the whole thing. It completely had my full attention.
I went out and got the book the next day. It was all about her life as a food critic, the disguises she came up with so no one knew who she was when she went into a restaurant, and then how she was she went into the restaurant as herself. I can remember how fascinating I found the book. I was only two or three chapters into the book when someone saw me reading it at a coffee shop. They told me if I like this book I should read her others. I finished the book, went out the next day and purchased her two other ones. I could not put them down. I was entranced in all things about Ruth Reichl. I can remember I started the first book just after Memorial Day, and by Labor Day I was finishing the last one. All my spare time was spent with those books.
I believe it was in her book Comfort Me with Apples (my personal favorite of them all), that she writes about this pumpkin soup she created. Although; it was not really like a soup, but more along the line of a pumpkin that is combined with a fondue. The pumpkin has its insides scraped out, then layered with toasted bread and cheese. You top it off by filling it with cream and baking the whole thing in the oven. As it bakes the pumpkin roasts and the cheese, bread, and cream filling simmers and melts into one. Once the outside of the pumpkin is tender you remove it from the oven a serve. To serve it all you scrape out the inside of the pumpkin along with the gooey, rich filling. It sounds good – actually I thought it sounded so savory and wonderful I couldn’t wait for pumpkins to come into season.
Once the autumn hit that year I rushed to get a pumpkin to give this a try. I made it again and again, each year after that. It is so easy, so tasty, and so beautiful to look at. I have made it when my parents visited me in the fall one year while living in Phoenix and they loved it. I have a friend here in Seattle who loves pumpkin; so I told her about this recipe; she has confessed to making it again and again herself. This is one of those recipes that is great for a casual gathering, seductive enough for a sophisticated meal, beautiful for the holidays, and because you bake it in the shell of the pumpkin it is stunning to look at. You can also adjust the recipe to the size of pumpkin you have. Give this a try now that pumpkins are in season and the days are getting increasingly cooler. Something so warm and comforting like this is just what the season called for. Thank you Ruth Reilch, you gave me recipes to keep making and writing I could not put down.
Savory Baked Pumpkin (serves 4)
**Slightly altered from Ruth Reichl's original recipe.
1 smaller pumpkin (about 6 – 8 inches in diameter)
Sliced French bread; several pieces, toasted
Grated gruyere or Swiss cheese (about 4 oz)
Half and half, about 2 cups
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
1 tbsp of olive oil
First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Carefully cut the top off of your pumpkin leaving the stem intact. With a spoon, scrape out the innards of the pumpkin and discard. (You can reserve the seeds if you like for a latter use.)
Next, rinse the pumpkin both inside and out and pat dry. Sprinkle the inside of the pumpkin with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Place a layer of your toasted bread on the very bottom of the pumpkin cavity. If you need to break up your toasted bread to fit, that is fine. You just want a light layer; you do not need to pack it in. Over the top of your bread sprinkle a bit of your cheese; just enough to cover the bread. You will want to repeat this until you fill the cavity of the pumpkin to its rim.
Then, gently pour the half and half over the layered bread and cheese and into the pumpkin cavity. I like to do this slowly to be sure the half and half is filling in the crevices and not ready to overflow the pumpkin filling. Place the pumpkin top you cut off back onto the pumpkin and place on a baking sheet. Rub the outside of the pumpkin with your tablespoon of olive oil. (This will help protect the outside of your pumpkin without burning it.)
Finally, place the pumpkin on the baking sheet into the center of your oven for about 2 hours. Your baking time will depend on the size of your pumpkin and how much you fill it, so I always check it after one and a half hours of baking. You want to bake it until a knife can easily pierce through the flesh of your pumpkin. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and wait about 15 minutes before serving.