I know that I was fascinated with this recipe from the time that I first opened Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook around my french table. It’s also one of those things that ultimately begs the question “which is more important – flavor or appearance?” Or if I were Frank Lloyd Wright – does form follow function?
I almost never (!) do a trial of a recipe. I very often will try something out for the first time at a holiday meal or dinner party – I guess I just like the adreneline rush of wondering if I was right – and if it will work out! But not this time.
Because for the past two years, I’ve considered having this dish on the Thanksgiving menu, I ended up trying this a while back – with a mini (pie) pumpkin, and all of the Dorie-suggested elements. Good cheese, nice bacon, French bread… cream. It sounds so nice.
For the trial run, I picked up a small-ish pie pumkin (probably nearly the 3lb size Dorie recommends), and then kind-of winged it. So, perhaps the results were not representative. I made the filling with the recommended ingredients and even added what seemed to be extra cream (I thought the picture of the creamy filling looked yummy!). Let’s just say, the results were not as I’d imagined. I liked the combination of the cheese, bacon and creamy bread – just not with the pumpkin. And the pumpkin wasn’t really soft and tasty. I wrote some of it off to the “pie pumpkin” – since it’s supposed to be fairly dry so that the puree is a nice consistency. Overall – I was thankful that I hadn’t whipped that out at Thanksgiving – my reputation would have survived, but it would likely have been reduced to one of our honored “Thanksgiving mishaps stories”… IMHO, better to have stories about last-minute guests than my food!
But on to this week’s challenge. Since I’d had mediocre results before, I decided that I’d make this recipe my own. I have some tried-and-true flavor combinations that I think can’t be beat. And for me, pumpkin calls out for spices. And cornbread. And even some type of smoky meat – in short, my Cajun Cornbread Dressing!
Almost always for the past 15 (!) years, I’ve made a boneless turkey. Once I realized how easy it is, and how fast it cooks, how juicy it turns out… well, there was no comparison. Very often, I’ve made some variety of the cornbread dressing I decided to use for this week’s baked pumpkin.
It all starts here… with the cornbread. Typically, Cajuns like their cornbread to be sweet, but you can adjust yours to taste. Another good thing about making your own – there’s enough for a couple of nice pieces to snack on while you’re working on your project!
Then there are a couple of spice mixes to put together, and then the ingredients are assembled. I decided to use some chicken andouille sausgage this time, though sometimes I’ll use ham, or even kielbasa (which is similar, but not as spicy) With most cornbread dressings there are several steps that bring it all together.
Once all of the ingredients are prepped, and the vegetables chopped, they get sauteed.
When the vegetables are soft, the spices are added and cooked for a few minutes – then the sausage is added, then finally some chicken broth.
I set this mixture aside to cool while I prepped my pumpkin. I don’t know how this works in other places, but regular pumpkins are sold by the “each”, so I had no idea of how much my pumpkin weighed – it just seemed like a nice size. Well, I can say for sure that it’s more than 3 lbs – it’s quite a bit more than that..
Good thing that I was making a recipe that made kind of a lot of stuffing – as I re-thought it – probably about the same capacity of the middle of a turkey… we’ll see! Once I had the pumpkin cleaned out, I added the “rub” to the inside (just like I would do if I were making a turkey).
Once my pumpkin was prepped, it was time to go ahead and complete my filling so that I could pop it into the oven! This all just gets a quick mix and then it’s ready.
As it turned out, I ended up with almost exactly the right amount of filling.
And after a couple of hours, it came out of the oven looking like this! I think it looks delicious!!!
As you can see, it was a little juicy when it first came out of the oven. But it did slice nicely (though no nice pictures). It seemed to have the moisture absorb back into the stuffing as it sat for a few minutes.
I am going to go ahead and make this for Thanksgiving. Since my pumpkins are larger (well, the same size as here), I will probably bake them a bit longer, but this was such a fun presentation, and the dressing was good – so I think it will be worth it! (I will likely stick a turkey wing in there though, just for the missing flavor). I liked this too because the filling has strong flavors to contrast with the (relatively) bland flavor of the pumpkin. I’ll serve it along with some cranberry sauce or spiced figs – it’s nice to have a little sweet to offset the spicy (and this is spicy).
Hopefully everyone else will think it’s a winning combination too!