Macaroni and Cheese Stuffed Pumpkin

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It's that time of year again and I felt that now was a great time to re-post one of my favorite recipes from Melt: The Art of Macaroni & Cheese. Pumpkins are everywhere now and the cold weather is seeping in.

My advice? Make mac and cheese studded baked in a pumpkin. This recipe is insanely easy and sure to impress during the cold holiday seasons ahead of us.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni 

1 sugar pumpkin, or other sweet variety (not a carving pumpkin), about 5 pounds
Sea salt
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.

Serves 4 

Wine pairings: white Rhône Valley blends, Viognier, oaky Chardonnay, champagne

Additional pairings for the cheese: apples, toasted walnuts, toasted hazelnuts

Wanting and Getting and What's In Between

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wanting is easy.

We want all the time.

It drives us to reach farther and work harder. Wanting brings out our best qualities, rough and sharp to the touch, and makes us polish them until their brightness blinds us. Wanting also brings out our worst. Jealousy and rage clawing at our guts, grey matter, and speech leaving us empty and often alone. Wanting allows us to endure - to face challenges and accomplish feats we never knew we could overcome. Wanting also breaks us down. We cry, we wonder why we aren't worthy and why our friends and co-workers and the bitches we hate are so damn lucky to get what they want. Wanting makes us forget that they probably suffered through want too, and we both empathize and forget this in waves of fluid coherence that change like the tide. Wanting makes us wonder how those other motherfuckers that came before us somehow wanted more. Wanting makes us freak out when yet another obstacle gets in the way. Wanting gives us the hammer needed to obliterate that obstacle, or at least make a hole to crawl through assuming we don't just walk around it. Wanting makes us move. Wanting makes us hopeful for the future and irritable at the present.

It's the getting.

Getting is hard.

Let's take an example...

My writing partner, Stephanie, is picking up and moving to France for a month for charcuterie classes, and then moving to Chicago for pastry school for six months.

Because this will make her happy and help lead her to her ideal career.

This is a perfect example of wanting so hard that she achieved the getting.

And please, read into that previous sentence. The getting required work, and dedication, and worrying, and freaking out, and long conversations over the phone, and second guessing, and making plans for a year from now before making plans for next month let alone next week.

Getting also required leaps of faith that paid off.

It demanded perseverance.

It needed hope that things will work out.

It insisted on a sound game plan that was well thought out mixed with a tinge of fuckitall.

And you know what? She got what she wanted. She's off to cleave up sides of bacon on a rural farm outside Paris before learning to make sugar sculptures and wedding cakes.

Getting is hard.

So now, I need to go back to my wanting so I can strive for my getting. 

Things I Forgot About Working in a Professional Kitchen

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

-200 Pippin apple tarts with prune-brown sugar compote and cinnamon sugar. Served with apple cider butterscotch, mascarpone sabayon, and almond crumble. Sabayon and crumble not pictured because I had to finish plating these bastards for service.-

1. Working on your feet for a 14 hour shift is hard. Running around kitchens, brushing tarts with egg wash, teaching culinary students, and running under the orders of a lot of captains can really work you out. This ordeal is made intensely more difficult when your husband has co-opted your old kitchen clogs as his work shoes, resulting in them becoming warped and no longer fitting for your feet. This results in feet that are covered in so many callouses and bruises your feet turn as purple and swollen as a fresh summer plum.

2. It's said that you can consider yourself an expert at something once you've put 10,000 hours of work into it. This may be true but professional kitchens do offer crash courses that certainly count for at least a 1000 hours in the space of a single shift. For example, take peeling apples. You've probably peeled scores of them in your lifetime. However, you will find a noticeable uptick in skill and speed after you stand there for three hours peeling, coring and slicing 200 of those fall season fuckers.

My top time to peel, core, and slice an apple into 24 wave thin wedges? 17 seconds. I didn't cut my hand once.

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