Stew snack-o’-lanterns

Cooking small foods inside big foods makes delicious foods.

Take “turducken.” What a food! A de-boned turkey stuffed with a de-boned duck stuffed with a de-boned chicken stuffed with whatever you please, usually breadcrumbs or Cajun sausage. I have personally tasted turducken, and I will personally tell you that it’s delicious. There’s something very seductive about it: Somewhere inside this turkey, I know there’s not one but two more birds, hiding. I can’t see them. But I want them.

Or take this pumpkin soup, and avoid the hassle of de-boning poultry. This very simple soup has a wonderful trick: It cooks inside the pumpkin. No pots, no bowls, no nasty “cooking” tools. Imagine your guests’ surprise when you pull a whole pumpkin out of the oven, lift off its top, and voila! There’s soup in there! It’s been in there all along, simmering and stewing and mixing its flavors. The setup is ingenious: Every food morsel receives its heat from other food morsels. Flavors can’t escape — if they try, they’re soon absorbed by other food morsels. A closed system!

Bring the pumpkin to the table, dip a ladle inside, and spoon the soup directly from the pumpkin into bowls. If you’re dedicated, use smaller pumpkins (or hollowed bread rolls, or de-boned poultry) instead of bowls. When your guests asked what the soup’s called, tell them “poupkin.” Or “pumsoup.” Or “soumpkip.” “Pusompkinup!”

Pumpkin Soup Baked in the Pumpkin

(Adapted from “Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors”)

Active time: 30 minutes. Total time: 2.5 hours. Serves 6 as a first course.

Ingredients:

1 medium pumpkin (preferably Sugar or Rouge Vid d’Etampes, which are meant to be eaten), weighing about 2.5 lbs.

4 cups milk, half-and-half or cream (I use half-and-half or raw milk)

10 fresh sage leaves

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese

Salt

Freshly-ground black pepper

Process:

(1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

(2) Use a knife to cut off the top of the pumpkin, as if you were carving a jack-o’-lantern. Make sure to keep the top in one piece. Carve out the seeds and the fibers from the inside, and rub the exposed flesh with salt (about 1 tsp.).

(3) Heat the milk (or half-and-half or cream) in a small saucepan with the garlic, sage leaves, a dash of salt (about 1 tsp.) and a few grinds of pepper. When the mixture is nearly at a boil, remove it from heat and pour it all into the inside of the pumpkin. Cover the opening of the pumpkin with a single layer of tin foil and replace the top of the pumpkin over the tin foil. Put the pumpkin in a large roasting pan and place it on the middle rack of the oven. Bake it for two hours.

(4) When the pumpkin is ready, remove it from the oven and set aside the top and the tin foil. Ladle about half of the milk mixture into a blender. With a small spoon, scoop out the flesh of the top half of the pumpkin and add it to the blender. Blend the mixture well and transfer it to a bowl. Repeat with the second half of the milk mixture and the bottom half of the pumpkin, making sure to keep the skin of the pumpkin whole and intact. (Be careful, because it will be very soft after cooking.)

(5) Add the cheese to the blended mixture and check for salt and pepper. Then transfer it all back into the pumpkin. At the table, spoon the soup directly from the pumpkin into bowls. Enjoy.

(Note: if you’re worried the pumpkin will collapse in the oven or you’ll ruin it while scooping out the flesh, buy two pumpkins and roast the second one, empty, for a shorter period of time. When the soup is ready, serve it from the intact pumpkin.

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