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’Tis the season when all things pumpkin flavor our lattes, cookies, quick breads and more. No complaints here—the subtly sweet richness of pumpkin gives everything from soups to muffins a luscious texture and comforting, even nostalgic appeal. When I heard Ruth Reichl, the former editor of Gourmet magazine, describe the following recipe, I knew I had to give it a try. A small whole pumpkin (sometimes called a sugar or pie pumpkin) is layered with toasted bread and cheese; filled with cream, chicken stock and a few aromatics; and baked until the filling melds with the tender pumpkin flesh. Delight friends and family by serving the whole baked pumpkin at the table, then carve it into quarters.
1 small pumpkin (about 4 pounds)
1 loaf French bread (such as baguette), cubed (about 6 cups)
12 ounces grated cheese (such as Gruyère, Swiss, Emmenthal or sharp white cheddar)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or sage
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch grated nutmeg
Vegetable oil, for brushing
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Slice off the top of the pumpkin (as though you were making a jack-o’-lantern) and use a metal spoon to scrape out the seeds and strings. (Spread the seeds out to dry and eat later.)
3. Place the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, about 9 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly.
4. Layer the bread and cheese inside the pumpkin, leaving about 1/2 inch at the top (the filling will expand a bit during baking).
5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the fresh herbs, chicken stock, cream, salt, black pepper, nutmeg and cayenne. Pour the mixture into the pumpkin, using as much as you need to cover the top layer of filling. Place the top back on the pumpkin, brush the outside with oil, then bake on a rimmed baking sheet 2 hours, until the pumpkin is very tender.
6. Allow the pumpkin to cool 10–15 minutes, then slice it into quarters. Make sure you scoop up the pumpkin flesh with the bread and cheese mixture.