-Welcome to Seattle. Please proceed to get down.-
It is wet in Seattle right now. It is also cold. Neither of these things bode well to me and I am outside of my comfort zone as it feels like Northern California January right now and I'm just not ready for that. Add in the fact that two days ago I was wearing shorts and flip-flops in Los Angeles' 76 degree weather and my body is just wracked with loads of whattheeffisallthiscrazy?
Seriously, I will slap someone until fire comes out if this isn't resolved.
Seattle and I have a rather intriguing relationship. We're like old hookups who still enjoy getting together every so often. They're filled with indulgent behavior, fine meals, and tawdry nights out that result in stories I only share in person after I'm about three glasses in (consequently, three glasses in brings us back to another story about Seattle).
Still, when Seattle and I try to sit down and discuss making a proper go of it we both get cold feet. Often literally. Seattle doesn't want to let go of the meteorologic ennui and Indie thirty somethings with a penchant for waxed mustaches and small batch whiskey. I, on the other hand, demand quiet stability to better satiate my inner housewife and access to decent Mexican food, neither of which can be achieved in the Pacific Northwest.
Yet not an hour ago I was traipsing through the streets eye banging dudes with beards and sleeve tattoos, delighting in the culinary glory that is Sitka & Spruce, admiring the jade moss growing on nearly every tree, and the bronze dance lessons embedded in Capitol Hill's sidewalk. Oh, indeed there would be some indecent thoughts tonight about escaping to Seattle.
Then the rain came. Hard. And lots of cold wind. The kind the slivers down collars and sticks pins in your ears. Then suddenly I remembered why we never got serious. At the end of our night my shoes were wet and I think I need to get checked for a disease - like a cold or flu. Ugh.
The book tour has been kind here. Lots of excitement about cheese, pasta, and their fair haired children. Private parties, book signings, and soon a panel with a local cheese maker. I know I'm rather excited about it all even though being "on" constantly every day has worn me harder than the suede Pumas I got back in 2002. I've also discovered a delightful mozzarella corn cake recipe that I will get from a local restaurant either though kindness or coercion.
Alas, I realize that in talking about the book nonstop these last few years I haven't actually shared a single recipe. I would be remiss if I didn't (and simply stand as a bit of a tease now, since I'm doing it so late).
This is one of my faves, admittedly. With the holidays coming up and with pumpkins being so in season I can't recommend this enough. It's easier than a preschool proficiency exam and takes almost no active work. You take sausage, cheese, and pasta and toss it with cream in a pre-roasted pumpkin. It looks damn impressive and the flavor is one you'll be proud of after the meal when your eaters profusely praise you.
Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni
1 sugar pumpkin, or other sweet variety (not a carving pumpkin), about 5 pounds
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ pound mild Italian pork sausage
4 ounces elbow macaroni
5 ounces Fontina, cut into ¼-inch cubes
2 ounces Gruyère, cut into ¼-inch cubes
3 scallions, diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1 cup heavy cream
Fontina is a creamy, woodsy, Alpine-style cheese . There are m any varieties of Fontina, from Swiss to Italian, with some fine specimens even coming out of Wisconsin. Each has its own unique profile, so be sure to taste them all and pick the one that you like best. Regardless of which you choose, you will get a nice semihard texture and subtle mushroomy flavor. It just so happens that Fontina pairs beautifully with the sugary flavors of a good baking pumpkin.
This recipe, baked inside the pumpkin—a trick inspired by Dorie Greenspan and Ruth Reichl, both famous for their stuffed-pumpkin recipes (among other things)—simply knocked our socks off with flavor and a stylish yet homey presentation. Although best with Fontina and a touch of Gruyère, another Alpine favorite, this recipe is flexible and can use whatever cheeses, meats, onions, or extra pasta you have on hand. Feel free to experiment. We particularly like Valley Ford’s Estero Gold or its Highway 1 Fontina, as well as Roth Käse’s MezzaLuna Fontina. If you want to try something radical, a creamy blue cheese like Buttermilk Blue or Cambozola will do nicely too.
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/178°C. Cut a circle from the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle, the way you would cut open a pumpkin to make a jack-o’-lantern, and set aside. Scoop out the seeds and strings as best you can. Generously salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin, pop the top back on it, place it on a rimmed baking dish (since the pumpkin may leak or weep a bit), and bake for 45 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. If the sausages are in their casings, remove the meat and discard the casings. Crumble the sausage meat into small chunks and cook until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Discard the drippings, or save for gravy or what have you.
3. Also while the pumpkin bakes, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process.
4. In a bowl, toss together the Fontina, Gruyère, sausage, pasta, scallions, and herbs. Once the pumpkin is done baking, take it out of the oven and fill it with the macaroni and cheese. Pour the cream over the filling. Place the top back on the pumpkin and bake for 1 hour, taking the top off for the last 15 minutes so the cheese on top of the filling can properly brown. If the top cream still seems a bit too wobbly and liquid, give it another 10 minutes in the oven. The cream may bubble over a bit, which is fine. If the pumpkin splits while baking, as occasionally happens, be thankful you set it in a rimmed baking dish and continue to bake as normal.
5. Allow the pumpkin to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Be careful moving the dish, as the pumpkin may be fragile. You can serve this dish two ways: Cut it into sections and serve them, or just scoop out the insides with scrapings of the pumpkin flesh for each serving. Either way is just dandy. Salt and pepper to taste.
Wine pairings: white Rhône Valley blends, Viognier, oaky Chardonnay, champagne
Additional pairings for the cheese: apples, toasted walnuts, toasted hazelnuts