This time of year brings with it one of my most loved vegetables: winter squash. It’s versatile, attractive, and quite delicious! The variety I think is most versatile is the pumpkin. I love most anything to do with pumpkins, be they in pie form, carving Jack O’Lanterns, used as decoration… they are beautiful and comforting and essentially usher in the last quarter of the year in one perfect package.
Last month, I headed out to Pickpocket Farm’s Harvest Potluck, bringing with me two Pumpkin Fondues. Fondue is the perfect social food — everyone gathering around the pot (this pot is actually a baked pumpkin) dipping their fondue forks speared with pieces of baguette into a creamy, melty mess of comforting, warm cheese. What could be better? The pumpkins were met with rave reviews, and both were demolished fairly quickly. One of the pumpkins was on center stage outside on that very cold day, and it stayed hot enough to keep the cheese melted until all of it was gone. Perfect!
I made the fondue again for a group of friends helping us with our fall chores. Once again, the pumpkin was hailed as “crazy good,” even by someone who hated fondue. Enough said.
And now, some notes on the recipe before you actually make it.
The pumpkin you need for this recipe will be any edible variety, and small — we’re talking 4-5 lbs. I prefer a nice round pumpkin rather than a tall, narrow one because it lets more people get into all that melty goodness at the same time, rather than making people politely wait their turn. Fondue to me says “DIG IN!”
Garlic is an important part of this recipe. I grow my own, and the past two years have produced an amazingly pungent garlic. I am usually forced to reduce the amount called for in dishes that aren’t really cooking the garlic much, but for the fondue I went full strength. It is much better to go overboard here than not use enough. If you are using small-cloved supermarket garlic, I would even double the amount.
And now the cheese. I typically use Boggy Meadow Farm’s Baby Swiss, which is nutty and melts beautifully. Sometimes you can only find the smoked variety, so when that happens I use any type of Gruyere, or maybe a mix of Gruyere and Fontina. You could also try Jarlsberg, if that’s all you have hanging out in your fridge. The recipe also calls for mozzarella. If you can make your own like I do, do it! Fresh, homemade cheese makes an incredible fondue. Even if your mozzarella comes out drier than you’d like, it’s still perfect for shredding and melting.
Finally, you should make your own bread crumbs. The canned or bagged supermarket variety will not produce the consistency you need. Slice up some homemade bread (the recipe calls for white, but I’ve used varieties of wheat with no problem), toast it and process it and within seconds you have exquisite bread crumbs.
FONDUE in a PUMPKIN
1 pumpkin (4-5 lbs), washed and dried
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (double if using a supermarket variety)
6 oz. Baby Swiss cheese, shredded
2 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 slices white (or wheat) bread, toasted and crumbled
1 pint half-and-half
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (Have you ever grated nutmeg yourself? Heavenly!)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut a 2-inch slice from top of pumpkin (make sure you’re not cutting straight up and down — you want the top to rest on the pumpkin, shelf-like, as it bakes) and reserve. Remove seeds and fibers. Blend oil and garlic and rub into interior of pumpkin. Place pumpkin in a large roasting pan.
Gently combine the shredded cheeses. Alternate layers of toast crumbs and cheese inside the pumpkin. Combine half-and-half, salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over the layers. Replace top, making sure stem will fit into your oven. If not, slice it off. Bake pumpkin 2 hours, gently stirring contents after 1 1/2 hours.
If you can, make your own baguettes to dip into your pumpkin pot. If not, try to make whatever homemade bread you can, but keep it simple. You will want to savor every bite of delectable cheese! The surprise ending to this dish is to make sure your fork scrapes the side of the cooked pumpkin. Filling your mouth with this mixture of bread, cheese and pumpkin makes for a truly perfect meal — because you will eat so much of it, you will not have room for anything else. Happy melting!