Last Halloween, Dave introduced me to a dish that involves baking stuff inside a hollowed-out pumpkin. He explained that he’d taken it from a Ruth Reichl recipe in Gourmet. This past Halloween, I hosted, and I copied Dave’s (or Ruth’s) dish to a T. (Only mine was in a white heirloom “ghost” pumpkin, and I served a side of beet-and-tomato “blood” soup.) It’s sort of like French onion soup, inside a pumpkin: you stuff stale bread cubes and pour chicken stock inside the pumpkin, and top it with grated Swiss cheese while it bakes. A great concept, I thought, and I loved the addition of the roasted pumpkin that gets scraped up along with each spoonful of the finished stuff.
A week or so later, I was given a challenge. I was already trying to come up with tasty vegetarian options to share with a big crowd on Thanksgiving, ones that had protein, hopefully. There’s a lot of talk about vegetarian Thanksgiving sides, but when it comes to main courses, what does one do? This is exactly what Rebecca Lando asked me to come up with for a holiday project she was curating for Nona Brooklyn. It’s a round-up of Thanksgiving recipes and tips from Brooklyn foodies, and it’s up now to see. Check it out in time to plan this Thursday’s spread.
And so, I baked beans inside a pumpkin. Not just any baked beans, but really yummy baked beans in a smokey chipotle, brown sugar and honey sauce — the kind of vegetarian entree that’ll make the meat eaters dig in, and then mess up your proportions for each. Point in case: make more than enough of this stuff. It shouldn’t be too hard, either. Beans and pumpkins are pretty cheap!
Speaking of the beans, the most traditional type to use for this kind of dish would be big, meaty red kidney beans. These take a while to cook, so be sure to plan ahead. I ended up using a pack of heirloom “Jacob’s cattle” beans (I went bean-crazy and ordered a variety from Seed Savers’ Exchange once), which are smaller, about the size of Great Northern beans or pinto. Any of those varieties would be fine, too, and black beans? Why not? Just make sure you start with dried beans, because you really do want them to cook inside the pumpkin, soaking up all the flavors of the sauce as they do.
Then there’s the pumpkin. I used an heirloom winter squash with a rotund shape and dense, meaty flesh. Bear in mind that most winter squashes will take longer to cook than a regular pumpkin, but in my opinion, to much tastier results. The tricky part about this dish can be making sure that the squash is fully cooked at the same time the beans are fully cooked. I did one test run in which the beans were not yet tender enough, but the squash definitely was. This can differ from squash to squash, just as with bean to bean. So, to make sure that your beans will be cooked just as soon as the squash’s flesh is pleasantly soft, basically make sure they’re tender enough to eat as is before you put them in the squash/pumpkin. A little extra time to get more mushy once they’re baking in the pumpkin can’t hurt — that’s the way I like my baked beans, anyway.
Now, vegetarians on Thanksgiving — go forth and eat well! And hey, maybe try this as a side dish for the rest of you, too.
Chipotle Baked Beans in a Pumpkin (or Squash)
(makes 10-12 servings)
1 round pumpkin or winter squash, about 5 lbs
about 2 cups dry beans of your choice (such as red kidney or pimento)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
1/3 cup canned chipotles in adobo sauce, pureed in a food processor with all its sauces until smooth
salt and pepper
Soak beans overnight. Drain and fill with enough water to cover by 3-4 inches in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and cook gently until almost tender, about 1 hour (depending on type of bean). Make sure there’s still enough water that the beans are completely submerged. Add the brown sugar, honey/maple syrup and chipotles and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer in the sauces until beans are tender enough to eat, but still have a little bite.
Meanwhile, carve a large lid out of the top of the pumpkin, around its stem. Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp and reserve seeds for another use (like roasting for snacks!). Fill the pumpkin with the beans and all its juices. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until pumpkin flesh is soft to the touch and beans are fully cooked. Serve by scooping out beans with a scrape of pumpkin from the sides.
(for 10-12 servings)
5 lb winter squash (at $1/lb): $5.00
2 cups heirloom beans: $4.00
1/2 cup brown sugar: $0.50
1/2 cup honey: $1.50
1/3 cup canned chipotles in adobo sauce: $1.00
Five brownie points: You’re going to get a good sugar rush from this dish, between the traditional, super-sweet baked beans and the natural sugars from the tasty squash or pumpkin. But despite all those calories from sugar, there is virtually no added fats in this dish, which is pretty rare, especially for a filling main course. Onto more good things: a deep orange winter squash means tons of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Beans provide fiber and potassium along with protein. All told, it’s a great dish to keep away the winter sniffles.
Seven maple leaves: It’s the most wonderful time of year for winter squash: early fall and November, squash are still being harvested, and though they keep well throughout winter in storage, they’re fresher, tastier, and better right now. Stock up and freeze soups to have later on. The same can actually be said for beans — the more recently they were harvested, the tastier they are. And you can actually get beans that were harvested recently, and locally, from Cayuga Organics at the NYC Greenmarkets (just ask the vendor which beans are the softest). Not where I got my “Jacob’s cattle” beans for this recipe, but kudos to those seed savers for preserving all kinds of unique beans, too.