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Welcome to WFAEats — a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and interesting in the Charlotte food scene. We want to share stories, recipes and culinary escapades and hear about yours!

Pumpkin Perfection: A Showstopper Recipe

Amanda Clark

Maybe you’re over the “pumpkin craze,” or perhaps it’s a flavor you crave as the temperatures drop and the leaves change color.

My dinner club has a different theme each month. Last month, we each blindly chose a color to be the prominent one in our dish. We even threw in curveballs like white and pink, but I got orange (!) and if there’s one orange ingredient that I associate with this time of year, it’s pumpkin. It’s a favorite of mine, and I quickly got to thinking about all the flavorful possibilities.

Did I want to make it sweet or savory? I think we mostly associate pumpkin with dessert, so I opted for the more challenging route and went savory. One of the things I love most about my dinner club is that we encourage each other to take risks in the kitchen – to make recipes we’ve never tried before, or heaven forbid, not even use a recipe! I wanted to do a showstopper and do the pumpkin justice, so I decided to bake something inside of a pumpkin. Remembering the assignment, all (or most) of the ingredients needed to be orange, so I needed to have my bases covered.

The recipes that gave me inspiration, like this one from epicurious.com, called for ingredients like Swiss cheese and a French baguette. So I got sharp cheddar cheese and jalapeno cheese bread. Heavy cream was a necessity, but I served the dish with orange pepper slices and carrots to make sure everyone got enough orange (and their veggies, of course).

What resulted was an absolutely divine, decadently rich and flavorful Baked Pumpkin Cheese Bread Pudding Soufflé. I couldn’t decide what it was exactly – it was all of those things. It looked candied, even fake, as I pulled it out of the oven.

My friends “oohed” and “ahhed” as I set it on the table. The pumpkin meat was tender, the bread was moist, and cheese oozed from the dish with each bite. I might be telling the turkey to take a hike during the holiday season so this pumpkin can get all the love from the oven.

I can’t wait to see what next month’s dinner club dishes will consist of:  We’re all using recipes that feature nuts!

Credit Amanda Clark
Amanda Clark
Inside the baked pumpkin.

Baked Pumpkin Cheese Bread Pudding Soufflé

1 orange pumpkin (7-9 lbs.)

12 ounce loaf of jalapeno cheese bread, cubed

16 ounces heavy cream

16 ounces chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

12 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Orange pepper slices and carrots, for serving

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and remove the top rack. Set aside.

While the oven is preheating, toast the bread cubes on a baking sheet until slightly browned, about 6-8 minutes.

Remove the top of the pumpkin by cutting around the stem, leaving at least 2 inches in diameter. Scrape out the seeds and fibers, and season with 1 tablespoon of salt.

Whisk together the cream, stock, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.

Inside the pumpkin, layer a third of the bread cubes, then top with a third of the cream mixture and a third of the cheese. Repeat until you reach 1/2 inch from the top of the pumpkin. You may have some of the ingredients left over, depending on the size of your pumpkin. (I like to pour the remaining cream over the top, just to make sure it’s extra moist!)

Place the top back on the pumpkin and rub the outside of the pumpkin with olive oil.

Bake for about an hour, then carefully check to see if the outside skin is slightly tender and gives when you touch it. Let cool and enjoy!

Amanda Clark is an arts administrator by day and a blogger by night. She lives in Greensboro, NC, and blogs about restaurants and movies. Read more of her work at http://www.cuisineandscreen.com/.

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