This photo of a cheese-stuffed pumpkin in Always Add Lemon is enough to make you kick yourself for not thinking of something like it before. It’s an inspiring reminder that if you try hard enough pretty much any food can be filled with cheese. Why is this not the first thing that comes to mind every time we cook anything?
The chef behind this beauty, Danielle Alvarez, pulled this recipe out of thin air for a friend who made a last-minute reservation her restaurant, Fred’s, in Sydney, Australia. Like many chefs, Alvarez likes to hook her friends up with a little something extra special, but being crunched for time, she needed to create magic out of whatever she had on hand. She found a pumpkin in the kitchen that, she writes, “looked like it belonged in a fairytale,” and when a pumpkin is really, really, really, ridiculously good looking, it would be a sin not to serve it whole. She opened it up, stuffed it full of mushrooms, bread, and cheese, threw it in the oven, and two hours later, this great pumpkin was born into our world.
Alvarez notes that you can scale this recipe up or down, depending on the size of your pumpkin. If you can’t find one that’s fairytale beautiful, you can use any good-looking winter squash that calls out to you.
Reprinted with permission from Always Add Lemon by Danielle Alvarez, published by Hardie Grant Books, November 2020
- 20 g (1 1/2 Tbsp.) butter
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 200 g (7 oz.) wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 50 ml (1/4 cup) white wine
- 6 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and roughly chopped
- 170 g (6 oz.) stale bread, sliced
- 1.8 kg (4 lb.) your favorite heirloom-variety pumpkin (winter squash)
- 100 ml (1/2 cup) cream
- 100 ml (1/2 cup) mushroom, vegetable, or chicken stock
- 60 g (2 oz.) grated gruyère
- cayenne pepper, for sprinkling
- 1 Tablespoon grated parmesan olive oil, for rubbing
Start by cooking your onions. Heat the butter in a sauté pan over a medium–low heat. Add the onions with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook them gently and slowly until they are well on their way to being caramelized. This takes about 15–20 minutes. Next, add the mushrooms and wine with another pinch of salt and sauté for another 5–7 minutes until the mushrooms release their juices, are cooked and the liquid has reduced to almost dry. Next, add the thyme and, finally, check for seasoning before setting aside.
Toast your bread until lightly golden in color, or just a bit crisp. Set aside.
Cut around the stem to make a hole in the top of your pumpkin roughly the same size as the palm of your hand (you need to be able to reach in and scoop out the flesh). Pull the top off gently, then scrape out the seeds and pulp on the inside and discard. Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F).
Next, combine the cream and stock in a saucepan and heat until just below simmering point. Begin layering the mushroom and onion mixture, bread, cheese, and cream and stock into the pumpkin. I like to add a little salt and pepper on top of the bread as well as a tiny sprinkling of cayenne pepper. Repeat until all ingredients have been used and the pumpkin is filled generously. You don’t want it exploding though, so don’t push down too much on the filling to get more in. If it doesn’t all fit, then you just have a smaller pumpkin cavity and you’ll have a little excess filling. Finish with the grated parmesan and replace the pumpkin top.
Rub the outside of the pumpkin generously with olive oil and roast it on a tray, uncovered, for 2–3 hours or until the outside is darkened, tender to the touch and you see the cream mixture on the inside simmering out of the top. Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before serving.
Serve by removing the top and scooping a spoonful of the inside (including some pumpkin) onto plates.