Pumpkin Stew

I grew up with every fall bringing a jack-o-lantern-sized beast of a pumpkin to the table full to overflowing with rich stew. And my mom always made her famous (and I mean famous — these things were legendary at our church) Bride’s Biscuits, which were light, fluffy, and roughly the size of dinner plates.

This recipe is a modified Brunswick stew (Virginia style) with chunks of chicken breast and a delightful succotash of vegetables. If you’re not a chicken-and-veggies fan, feel free to use whatever you have lying around the house, or use the stew recipe of your choosing.

And ss for the broth part of the stew, go crazybananas on seasonings. Use what appeals to you. Taste and test various spices and cooking liquids until you find what delights and comforts you most.

PUMPKIN STEW

One large or up to 4 small pumpkins
2 Tbsp each olive oil and butter
1/2 sweet yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large chicken breast in 1.5-inch cubes
1 celery stalk, diced
1 large or 2 medium red potatoes, in 1/2 inch dice
handful baby carrots, chopped
1/4 cup flour
1 can chicken broth
1 can tomato soup (the just-add-water kind, no water added)
1 cup white wine
half a can of corn
1 cup frozen (or canned) lima beans
half a can of stewed, diced tomatoes (or one cup chopped fresh tomatoes)
2 whole dried bay leaves
Splashes of white wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp each cumin, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, allspice, and ginger
Fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, sweet basil, whatever) and salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut round “lids” out of the pumpkin(s). Remove the lid and scrape out the seeds and pulp. Rinse out the pumpkin shells, rub the outsides with olive oil and bake them (sitting upright with lids on) in an oiled baking dish for a scant half hour for small, individual pumpkins, or 45 minutes for a large pumpkin.

Heat oil and butter in a pan until smoking hot. Saute onion and garlic over medium heat until transparent, adding spices from the bottom of the recipe as desired. Add celery, carrots, and potato, stirring occasionally until chicken is cooked.

Next, sift in the flour, stirring constantly, until a thick roux is formed. Slowly add in the cooking liquids, stirring constantly, and bring the whole to a gentle boil over medium heat.

Throw in the rest of the veggies and the bay leaves, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover. Stir occasionally, tasting and adding seasonings as desired. Don’t add any fresh herbs until the end of the process, though.

When the pumpkin flesh is tender, stir in the herbs, ladle the stew into the pumpkin shells, and bake it all together for a further 15 minutes, reserving any excess stew. When the pumpkins come out of the oven, they’ll need to rest on the countertop for a few minutes, giving you just enough time to whip up a batch of biscuits.

Carefully transfer the whole pumpkin(s) to a serving dish or to dinner plates if using individual-sized pumpkins. The pumpkins will be heavy, and if you’re not careful, the flesh and skin might rupture. I recommend using multiple serving utensils and maybe even a steady, potholder-covered hand.

While eating (or serving) the stew, scoop out mounds of tender pumpkin flesh along with the stew itself.

After dinner, scoop any leftover pumpkin and reserved stew into a storage container; it’s awesome the next day, as are most stews.