I often get recipes stuck in my head, like songs. They’re like humming a familiar refrain only it’s more active. I’ll toss the recipes over and over in my mind and imagine how I would execute it, what I would change, what I would add. I imagine pouring the oil, flipping the fish, marinating the mushrooms. The preparation and the taste permeate my dreams. It connects me with a part of myself that lies a little more dormant while drafting complaints or climbing the four flights of stairs to get home. No, I don’t have a farm or a farmhouse in the city, but it’s there in my mind’s eye, in my travels, in my walks to work, in my dreams and in my kitchen. It’s solid.
I’ve mentioned before, on my way to work I walk past Boulud’s restaurants and have this daydream that one day I’ll enter the kitchen (the dining room is totally (almost) doable for a splurge night–hello law school loans). In response to that, a friend sent me an episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown. Among other beautiful scenes of Lyon and the surrounding countryside there is one segment where Anthony Bourdain watches on as Daniel Boulud and his parents recreate a classic country farm dish: a pumpkin stuffed with day-old bread (baked by Boulud’s father), creme fraiche, mushrooms, cheese, and bacon. You can watch the segment here. The first time I saw it I was smitten. The next time I watched it I was moved.
There is something so sacred about returning home (literally or figuratively) and making food that’s easy for you, familiar, with or for the people who know you. It somehow strengthens that invisible fragile strand that forms bonds between people. It extends through time and space and connects you to your roots. I think the depiction of Lyon also planted in my mind the idea of a reprieve from pushing, striving, achieving. It reminded me that there are places where you are welcome and can lay your cares down for just a moment on someone else’s shelf (you can pick them up when you leave, don’t worry) and enjoy with honest abandon, the moment. Something like home. I like that idea. It exists in the form of true gathering. Not just for a special occasion but, in a way that honors the people for whom you care. I feel that feeling most when I’m camping. That place of reprieve shines in the people I love. It’s there with friends. But most importantly, it flickers within me in solitary moments. Home is truly where you make it, within yourself and with people for whom you care.
The squash in this recipe is lavished with everything good. It’s stuff like this that makes evenings gleam and memories last. It feels like home because I grew up in a farming town. Onions were our thing, but also apples and pumpkins. I substituted a kabocha squash (delicious-you must try one) for pumpkin because try as you may you WILL NOT find a pumpkin in NYC after Halloween. Fact. Just as good though, if not better. The bread I used, if I say so myself, is awesome. Also, Guyère just may be the best thing ever invented. You can leave out the bacon, as I did, add chopped meat, add apples, raisins, kale, anything you want to stuff this magnificent squash with. Make the squash your oyster. I kept it simple though because last night was a weeknight. I seriously almost fell over when I tasted it. This dish connected me with my dreams, my farm and farmhouse, my respite and hinted at that rare moment when the difference between how things are and how things should be line up and two concentric circles become one. Not to be hyperbolic or anything, but seriously. Just, yes.
Gruyere, Bread, Scallion Stuffed Kabocha Squash adapted from Daniel Boulud
Serves 3 (ish)
- 1 pumpkin, about 3 pounds
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 pound stale bread, thinly sliced and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1/4 pound Gruyère cheese cut into 1/2-inch chunks, or shredded, whichever is easier.
- 4 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
- 4 pieces of bacon, fried to crispy and crumbled for good distribution in the squash (I left this out, but he had his farm made pancetta in his recipe so do what you like with it)
- 1/4 cup fresh chives chopped (I used chopped scallions because I had some left over from my sweet potato and dukkah recipe last week)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
- About 1/3 cup heavy cream
- generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- cinnamon to taste
- salt and pepper to taste (easy on the salt if you use bacon and remember cheese has salt)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Using a very sturdy knife—and caution—cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin/squash. Scoop out the seeds and strings from the cap and from inside the pumpkin. Season the inside of the pumpkin generously with salt and pepper, and put it on the baking sheet or in the pot.
Toss the bread, cheese, garlic, bacon, and herbs together in a bowl. Season with pepper and pack the mix into the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be well filled. Stir the cream with the nutmeg and some salt and pepper and pour it into the squash. You might have too much or too little depending on the size of your squash—you don’t want the ingredients to swim in cream, but you do want them nicely moistened.
Put the cap in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours—check after 90 minutes—or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbling and the flesh of the squash is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. Because the squash will have exuded liquid, remove the cap during the last 20 minutes or so, so that the liquid can bake away and the top of the stuffing can brown a little.
When the squash is ready, carefully, very carefully—it’s heavy, hot, and wobbly—bring it to the table. To serve, cut like a pie.