In the age-old fairy tale, turning into a pumpkin at midnight is frowned upon. This year at Thanksgiving, however, when you turn the centerpiece of your meal into a magically stuffed Cinderella pumpkin, you can be sure that your holiday guests will wonder which fairy godmother swooped in to prepare it.
Pumpkins can be so much more than a side dish or dessert. Especially for those of us who choose a vegetarian or vegan celebration, they can be a photo-worthy centerpiece, a savory and delicious main course. The beauty of the stuffed pumpkin is that you can fill it with anything your heart desires. If you need some inspiration, look no further than your local tailgate market for flavors and colors that will appeal to your guests and your own palace―er, palate.
Chue Lee of Lee’s One Fortune Farm has Cinderella pumpkins now, though many other farms have winter squash of all shapes and sizes right now. Choose the one that best suits your aesthetic and tastes. Acorn or buttercup squashes are both nice options to fill or to cook into your stuffing. Instead of the meat-heavy Turducken? You can have acorumpkins or a butterkinacorn! Find Lee’s One Fortune Farm at ASAP, Black Mountain, West Asheville, and River Arts District markets.
After selecting your pumpkin vessel, browse the market for local garlic, onions, kale, mushrooms, goat or vegan cheeses, bread, or fennel—the list goes on and on. Find local goat cheeses from Three Graces Dairy (ASAP, North, or West Asheville markets) and Spinning Spider Creamery (North Asheville and River Arts District markets). Get vegan cheese from Darë Vegan Cheese (River Arts District Farmers Market).
Back in the kitchen with all your local favorites, you can begin to prepare your pumpkin. Unless you have a magic wand, you’ll need some time to scrape the seeds out (setting them aside to roast later!) and clean out the cavity. Once cleaned, brush the inside of the pumpkin in olive oil or butter and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt. Return the tops to their rightful place. Place the pumpkin on a parchment-lined pan and par-roast for one hour in the oven at 350 degrees. If you are going to mash an acorn or other squash as part of your filling, roast it at the same time.
While the pumpkin is roasting, sauté your other ingredients in some olive oil and salt, spicing it to your preference. Favorite holiday spices like cloves and cinnamon can work in savory dishes, too! We like to start with the onion, garlic, and fennel. Then add mushrooms and kale, cooking just until it begins to wilt.
Next you’ll assemble all your ingredients inside your pumpkin. We like to layer the different ingredients, sort of like lasagna, until you’ve filled it up. You can also mix everything together in a bowl and then scoop it out evenly across the pumpkins. Finally, top it all with your favorite mix of roasted seeds, bread crumbs, and cheese and return it to the oven for a final roasting. Once all the cheese on top has melted, you can return the tops for a few minutes to ensure everything is warm. We like to serve this centerpiece on a platter surrounded by local honey-glazed roasted beets and carrots for a little sweet and colorful addition.
At markets now you can also find turnips, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, lettuce, and other hardy greens like collards, chard, and mustard. Markets are also stocked with farm-fresh eggs, rice, pasta, bread, pastries, drinks, and prepared foods. There are more than 100 farmers tailgate markets throughout the Appalachian Grown region. Find them, as well as farms and other local food businesses, in ASAP’s online Local Food Guide at appalachiangrown.org.