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Rendell's Recipes - Thanksgiving-ish

Something like a quarter to a third of greenhouse gas emissions, globally, are the result of food production. So one of the things I end up talking to students about fairly frequently is eating habits. Most often about eating locally or organically, but most interestingly about cutting down on meat consumption.

November 18, 2010
 

Something like a quarter to a third of greenhouse gas emissions, globally, are the result of food production. So one of the things I end up talking to students about fairly frequently is eating habits. Most often about eating locally or organically, but most interestingly about cutting down on meat consumption.

I generally don't try to sell the idea of going vegan because, for a lot of kids, that's a bridge too far. It's such a change from what they're used to that they end up never really trying, or giving up at the first opportunity. And I'm not vegan, myself. Not even strict lacto-ovo vegetarian.

So what I generally do is to recommend cutting back on meat -- especially cutting back on industrially-produced beef. Chicken, pork, acceptable fish provide the same amount of protein with a typically lower GHG impact. Recipes which are either vegetarian or include a small amount of meat, yet provide a large amount of flavor and satisfaction, seem to take the discussion out of the abstract. If I can get their salivary glands engaged in a conversation about a recipe which has them eating lower on the food chain than they typically would, I consider that a win.

In that spirit, I'd like to share one of my favorite fall-time recipes. Actually, the term "recipe" may be a misnomer, because I don't approach cooking as if it were a chemistry experiment. I treat recipes as suggestions or concepts, not commandments. Quantities, methods, times, temperatures, ingredients are all negotiable. It's the thought (and the flavor) that counts.

This time of year, a lot of farmstands and supermarkets have pumpkins for sale. Since Halloween is over, the price is generally reasonable. And pumpkin is good for more than just jack-o-lanterns and pies. I prefer mine stuffed.

To stuff a pumpkin, pick one that's a good size for the number of people you're serving. Three pounds is about right to serve two people, five pounds to serve four.

Preparation for stuffing is easy -- just cut an opening in the top (like you would if you were making a jack-o-lantern -- angle the knife so that the top of the pumpkin can go back on and stay in place). Make the hole big enough that you can get your hand in easily. Then scoop out all the pumpkin seeds and the stringy stuff. Leave the solid meat on the inside of the shell. (Wash off the seeds, arrange them on a cookie sheet, sprinkle them with salt and roast them for an absolutely delicious snack.) Season the inside of the pumpkin with black pepper, salt (optional), maybe some garlic powder.

Stuff the pumpkin (we'll talk about what to stuff it with in a moment), replace the cap, put it on a cookie sheet or baking dish (I use parchment paper to avoid sticking), then bake it at 350-375 degrees F for 1.5 to 2.5 hours, depending on size. (Cooking time is pretty flexible. If you overcook it a bit, no big deal. If you undercook it a bit, you'll waste a little of the pumpkin meat but, still, no big deal.) Allow to cool slightly, then slice into sections and serve in bowls or soup plates. With the possible addition of a green salad, it's a meal.

So -- about that stuffing. The real question is, what do you like? Here are three of my favorites (suggested quantities are more for 3-pound than 5-pound pumpkins -- adjust accordingly):

Pumpernickel stuffing -- Take about 4 slices of pumpernickel bread, thoroughly dried, and tear them up into finger-tip-sized pieces. Add about a quarter pound of Jarlsberg cheese cubed to similar size. Several scallions, chopped. Four or five slices of bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled. Two or three cloves of garlic, sliced thin. Dried herbs (whatever you like). One-third to one-half cup of heavy cream. Nutmeg or allspice to taste. Mix well and put into pumpkin.

Risotto-like stuffing -- About 2 cups of cooked rice (I use a medium-brown short grain rice with the hull on). A quarter pound of Jarlsberg or domestic swiss cheese, in half-inch cubes. One large Portobello mushroom cap, coarsely chopped, or a small quantity of good prosciutto. One small onion, chopped and sauteed lightly. Two or three cloves of garlic, sliced thin. Dried herbs (I generally use basil and parsley, or herbes de Provence). A quarter cup of heavy cream. A third- to a half-cup of chicken or vegetable broth (not too salty). Nutmeg or cinnamon to taste.

More or less New Mexico-style stuffing -- About 1.5 cups of cooked rice. About a half cup of kernel corn (I generally use frozen, but let it thaw before use). About a third of a cup of black beans. A quarter to a third of a pound of Edam or grated Mexican-style cheeses (I like Sargento's grated mixture). Three or four roasted Poblano or Anaheim peppers, skins and seeds removed, coarsely chopped or cut into small strips. One small boneless chicken breast, cooked and chopped/shredded (optional). Scallions. Garlic. One-third to one-half heavy cream. Nutmeg, cinnamon or allspice to taste.

I've never served any of these to anyone who didn't absolutely love it (especially the pumpernickel and risotto varieties -- some folks around here are put off by southwestern-style cooking). And I've never known anyone to go away hungry or to complain that there wasn't (enough) meat in the entree. So try it out while you can still get good (local, I hope) pumpkins. Substitute ingredients as you like. Eat a bit lower on the food chain. And love every bite!

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