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Halloween party menu

Roasted baby pumpkins and white chocolate with butter pecans and candied orange peel.

By Blue Kitchen / October 27, 2010

An impressive start and finish to an autumn dinner – roasted baby pumpkins filled with mushrooms and shallots, topped with Gruyere for the first course and sinful white chocolate with candied orange peel, roasted pecans and reduced maple syrup for dessert (click on arrow below to see a photo of dessert).

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Our last Halloween party some years ago was the kind of party that makes us call the police now. Seventy-five or so people overflowing from our apartment into the hall and onto the fire escape out back. About two in the morning, I started turning the music down out of some semblance of courtesy to our neighbors. I turned it down three or four times, in fact. But at 4:30, when the last guests left and I turned it off, it was still impossibly loud.

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Still, we have fond if blurry memories of that party – and a soft spot for Halloween in general. In many ways, it is the perfect holiday. It appeals to all ages and doesn’t involve the potential emotional landmines of exchanging gifts. And it’s scary, but in a fun way, not in an Earth Day way.

As our Halloween celebrations have gotten a little quieter, our ideas for Halloween treats have become a little more refined. (Not that we’re opposed to nabbing a few fun-sized candy bars when they come our way, mind you.) The two recipes here are perfect examples. The first takes advantage of the seasonal appearance of baby pumpkins, elevating them from mere table decorations to charming savory starters that will surprise and delight guests right up through Thanksgiving.

The second recipe can be called candy, I suppose, but it’s candy all dressed up for the grown-up table, a sophisticated sweet/salty/fruity treat worthy of serving as the perfect end to a company dinner. Candied orange peel gives it a splash of Halloween color, but it too can live well beyond the spooky holiday.

Roasted baby pumpkins with mushrooms
Serves 4 as a first course

4 baby pumpkins
Olive oil
Salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups roughly chopped mushrooms (I used baby bellas)
1 cup sliced shallots (or yellow onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup brandy
grated fresh Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. with rack in middle position. Rinse baby pumpkins and dry with a dish towel. Carefully slice the tops from the pumpkins (see photo above). Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and pulp. Brush/rub pumpkins inside and out with olive oil and arrange them on a nonstick baking sheet with tops in place. Place in the oven and roast for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender when pierced with a sharp knife.

Meanwhile, heat a large nonstick skillet over a medium flame. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and tablespoon of butter, swirling pan to mix oil and butter as it melts. Add mushrooms to pan and toss to coat with oil and butter. The mushrooms will probably soak up much of the fat in the pan; if so, drizzle in a little more oil, then add the shallots and toss to mix. Cook until tender, 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning (lower heat if necessary).

Stir garlic and herbes de Provence into mushroom mixture and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Season with salt and pepper and add brandy to pan. Cook, stirring, until brandy is absorbed/evaporated, about a minute or two. Remove from heat.

Remove pumpkins from the oven, leaving them on the baking sheet. Stir a generous 1/4 cup of grated Gruyere into the mushroom mixture. Set pumpkin caps aside and spoon mixture into the pumpkins, mounding it slightly. Sprinkle a heaping teaspoon of of grated Gruyere on top of the mixture in each pumpkin and return the baking sheet to the oven. Heat pumpkins until cheese is melted, 1 to 2 minutes.

Place pumpkins on serving plates, adding tops leaning against them. Serve.

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Marion created this delicious sweet/salty dessert. I’ll let her tell you about it:

Besides a dinner dessert, this is an awesome party treat and something excellent to take to your office. It’s not so good to drop into the bags of trick or treaters.