PETITE STUFFED PUMPKINS



And I just can't wait until next Halloween
'Cause I've got some new ideas that will really make them scream
And by God, I'm really gonna give it all my might!

- Jack 'The Pumpkin King' Skellington, The Nightmare Before Christmas

I didn't realize it until it was too late this year, but when we chose this house we moved into one of 'those' neighborhoods: Halloweentown. As the first day of October flipped over on our collective calendars, the decorations began to creep out of storage. A black cat here, a twiggy broom there....then suddenly in the last few weeks there was an onslaught of fake cobwebs, giant lawn inflatables, spooky lights and severed heads and all things ghoulish. One house a block away hosted a full-on haunted house, complete with tombstone-strewn front lawn and sound effects. For a neighborhood that had seemed outwardly a bit conservative, it was a real pleasure to discover that my neighbors were.......basically, kind of secret freaks, after all. It was weirdly comforting.

Of course, as I mentioned, we realized it too late this year. Too busy with home renovations, with work, with general life things. No decorations, not even any costumes for us. But next year.....oh my goodness, the thought of next year has me cackling and rubbing my hands with cartoonish glee. And like the Pumpkin King, I've got big plans.



This year, we'll be dining on Halloween candy and I'll be dreaming of these individual stuffed pumpkins I made not long ago. Pumpkin season continues even after the cobwebs have been swept away, so make sure to take advantage of this recipe while you can. It's something of a relative to Dorie Greenspan's famous Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good recipe, and is basically one of my favorite savory bread pudding recipes stuffed into a pumpkin--the most wonderful, roastable bowl that you can eat afterwards!

Petite Stuffed Pumpkins

3 cups cubed bread (day-old, slightly stale bread is great if you have it)
2/3 cup milk
3 small pumpkins
1/2 lb. mild Italian sausage
1/2 cup diced onion
1 cup sliced crimini or button mushrooms
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup grated parmesan
3 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed
salt & pepper



In a large mixing bowl, place bread cubes and pour milk over them, set aside. Cut 'lids' into each pumpkin as you would for a jack o'lantern, with a sharp knife. A note on 'small' pumpkins: size is approximate, I had one Sugar Pie pumpkin and two smaller Sweet Dumpling pumpkins (winter squash have the cutest produce names ever). Scoop out seeds and other stringy bits, discard or set aside for roasting.



Preheat oven to 350, get out a roasting pan that can hold all three pumpkins at once. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, saute Italian sausage until about halfway cooked through, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go. Add mushrooms, saute until browned, stirring occasionally. Add onion and celery, cooking for several minutes until both are softened and translucent. Transfer mixture mixing bowl with bread and milk, toss to combine. Add parmesan, fresh thyme, and salt & pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly, stuff into pumpkins and place pumpkin caps on top. Roast at 350 for 20 minutes, remove caps and bake for 10 more minutes--at this point they should smell heavenly and be nicely browned on top. Remove and let cool for 10 minutes, then serve while warm.

You can scoop everything out beforehand and serve it that way, but I'm a fan of serving each person their own personal pumpkin. Make sure to scrape the insides of the pumpkin itself while eating from this 'bowl' to get a little of the sweet, creamy pumpkin mixed with the savory stuffing.