You’ll remember our Tustin pumpkinpreneur, Carlene Bonar, from my Taste of Orange County post the other week. Her Fresno-area farmer son-in-law planted an acre of gorgeous, multicolored pumpkins just for her, and this fall she’s been selling them at Orange County farmers markets. I continue to be giddily grateful—I know they’re not only for me, but I am happy enough about this development to feel just that way. As previously mentioned, I really like pumpkins.
At yesterday’s last-of-the-season downtown Fullerton farmers market, Bonar was doing a booming business with the under-10 set. Adorably costumed children wandered among her ad-hoc pumpkin patch, choosing their own future jack o’ lanterns. I was there partly because I needed more, and for a simple-enough reason: We ate ours! This is also due to Carlene—she gave me a recipe for stuffed whole pumpkin that was so delightful that I prepared it two nights in a row, with two different varieties of her pumpkins.
A specialty of the Vintage Press, a venerable Visalia restaurant, the recipe is simple enough, but is one of those alchemic mixtures that ends up being greater than the mere sum of its parts. A small, scooped-out, whole pumpkin is filled with smoked chicken, cheese, sautéed onion, and chives (plus a hit of chili paste), before being topped up with a not-insignificant dose of heavy cream. Lids back on, into the oven until tender—and then each lucky eater experiences sweet, tender pumpkin flesh in combination with now-melded, savory filling.
If you don’t have on hand your own smoked or grilled chicken, this dish makes an excellent home for just about any leftover chicken, like rotisserie or roast. Most barbecue restaurants can supply smoked chicken, and Whole Foods’ smoked-meat case often has chicken by the pound. I used Wood Ranch BBQ’s chicken, which is always well-prepared and conveniently on-the-ready—by the way, O.C. has a new O.C.Wood Ranch, in the Irvine Spectrum, joining Anaheim Hills and Rancho Santa Margarita locations. My chili paste was my fridge-door staple Huy Fong Garlic-Chili Sauce, but any whose flavor you like would work. I resolved, too, in a future go-round, to use mushrooms sautéed with the onion rather than chicken, for a perfect vegetarian entrée.
Hope the pumpkin supply holds out.
Pumpkin Stuffed with Spicy Smoked Chicken, from Chef David Vartanian of the Vintage Press
Carlene Bonar cautions against overfilling the pumpkins—leave enough room for the tops to fit. She likes to serve the pumpkins with a big salad, and bread.
(Makes 6 servings)
6 baby pumpkins or 2-3 small pumpkins, such as Rockafellow
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
½ pound smoked chicken, chopped
2 ounces Jarlsberg cheese, grated (generous 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon chopped chives
About 1 tablespoon chili paste, or to taste
½ to 1 pint heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
With sharp knife, cut circular top out of pumpkins, clean and reserve. Using spoon, scoop out and discard seeds and strings, being careful not to puncture through pumpkin’s skin. Season insides with salt and freshly ground pepper, and place on baking sheet.
In small sauté pan, cook onion with butter until soft. In bowl, combine chicken, cheese, and chives. Mix in sautéed onion, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and up to 1 tablespoon chili paste.
Divide mixture among pumpkins. Into each, pour heavy cream to just moisten filling. Replace tops, and cook in preheated oven 30 to 45 minutes, or until pumpkins are tender. (Larger pumpkin will take an hour or more.) If pumpkins begin to brown quickly, cover baking sheet with foil.
Allow to settle briefly before serving.