There’s something about eating dinner in a pumpkin on or near Halloween that inspires children to think they have the funnest parents/grandparents/friends (whomever you might be to them) on the planet. And while it may not be the most gourmet meal ever, it is extremely tasty, especially if you scoop a bit of the sweet, tender pumpkin out along with the hearty, filling casserole (amazing combination, if you want to know).
It doesn’t take much begging for one of my kids to volunteer as the brave soul who extracts the pumpkin guts. They’re usually fighting over that job while I quickly get the casserole put together. By the time they’ve strung pumpkin seeds from here to kingdom come, we’re ready to stuff the pumpkin with a delicious concoction of chicken and rice and veggies all smothered in a simple, creamy made-from-scratch sauce (yep, this homemade recipe put to work again with a slight variance or two).
It’s our tradition to eat this fun dish on Halloween night. I mean, let’s be serious, I might as well try to get a few veggies down all of our gullets before “dessert” (i.e. Halloween candy) takes over the world (and before I snitch all the dark chocolate Kit Kats from their bags – which if you must know, I’m always left a bit disgruntled that my neighbors never buy enough dark chocolate Halloween candy; waaaay too many milk duds, inmyhumbleopinion).
I’ve included all you need to know about what size of pumpkin to buy (in the notes of the recipe) and really, other than that, this recipe is easy peasy (especially if you come prepared with cooked chicken and rice or quinoa). It’ll be easy to wow your friends and family with this one while you pat yourself on the back, discreetly of course, about accomplishing both fun and healthy all in one. One million points for you.
Dinner in a Pumpkin
- 1 medium pumpkin (see note)
- 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning (or sub a pinch each of marjoram, sage and thyme)
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste if needed
- 1/8 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1/8 teaspoon paprika
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 ounces light or regular cream cheese, cubed
- 1/2 tablespoon oil (coconut, vegetable or olive oil)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow or white onion
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 cup finely diced carrots
- 1 cup diced broccoli florets
- 1 cup frozen corn kernels
- 2 cups cooked rice or quinoa
- 3-4 cups cooked chicken (see note)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cut the top off the pumpkin and set aside – try for about a 6-7-inch opening. Clean out the seeds and insides of the pumpkin until the inner walls of the pumpkin are smooth.
- For the sauce, in a medium saucepan over medium heat bring the chicken broth and all the seasonings to a simmer. Whisk the milk and flour together until very smooth. Gradually pour it into the simmering broth while whisking quickly and continue cooking until the mixture is bubbly and thick. Off the heat, stir in the cubes of cream cheese and let them melt while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
- In a large, 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the 1/2 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic (or garlic powder), carrots, broccoli and corn. Cook the mixture, stirring often, until the onion is translucent and the vegetables are slightly tender, 5-8 minutes.
- In a large bowl, combine the rice or quinoa, chicken, and cooked vegetables. Stir the sauce to combine the soft cream cheese and pour over the other ingredients, mixing to combine. Add additional salt and pepper to taste (don’t be shy – it may need another 1/2 teaspoon of salt or so).
- Lightly salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin (the sides and bottom) and spoon the casserole into the pumpkin.
- Place the top back on the pumpkin and place a large rimmed baking sheet covered in foil in the oven. Most likely it will need to be on a rack placed low in the oven to fit the pumpkin. Carefully place the pumpkin on the baking sheet and bake for 90 minutes.
- Remove the baking sheet and pumpkin from the oven and let the pumpkin rest for 10 minutes before serving. Scoop the casserole out of the pumpkin – don’t forget to scrape the soft, delicious sides of the pumpkin to get a bit of the sweet pumpkin meat in with the casserole (that’s what makes it so tasty!).
- Be careful moving the pumpkin after it has baked. It probably should stay on the baking sheet – the sides will be ultra soft and I’ve learned the hard way that if the pumpkin is being moved from the baking sheet to a platter, it may split in half!
Ok, let’s talk pumpkins for this recipe. It will vary a little based on the fact that some pumpkins have more guts than others (gross but true); generally speaking, you want to look for a pumpkin that is about 9-10 pounds with dimensions about the equivalent of 10-inches high and about 26 1/2 inches in circumference at the thickest part. It’s ok if it’s slightly larger and the casserole ingredients don’t fill it all the way up. Just make sure with the stem back on that it can fit in your oven.
If you have access to good-quality rotisserie chickens (I’m looking at you, Costco), this is a perfect recipe to use the meat in. Several of the components can be made ahead of time – the cooked chicken, cooked rice or quinoa (cook it up earlier in the week and keep it in the refrigerator) and even the sauce (it can be prepared days in advance, too, and used straight from the fridge).
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Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe