Meatless Monday: Roasted sugar pumpkins with cheese fondue

Cheese fondue in a roasted pumpkin makes a autumnal dinner party even more festive.

Three Many Cooks
A cheese fondue baked inside of sugar pumpkins adds autumn color and flavor to the dinner table.

I think my fiance Anthony and I went to our first real grown-up dinner party last week.

Sure, we’ve been over to friends’ houses for dinner and we’ve hosted quite a few get-togethers at our place. But this was the first time we were invited to someone’s house (whom we don’t know that well) to dine with a handful of other folks we’d never met. Eeek!

On the walk over, I was buzzing with nerves and excitement. (I know, I know. It’s just a dinner party.) But Anthony and I don’t get invited over for dinner much by our peers. Between Mom’s illustrious food career and our reputation for being good cooks, people are always saying, “Oh, we can’t cook for you guys!” Over the years, I’ve seen this happen to my parents a lot, but I wasn’t prepared for it to happen to me! So I was glad when these brave souls extended the invitation.

When we arrived, we were warmly ushered in, our coats were whisked away, and beverages made their way into our hands. The air was warm and smelled deliciously autumnal – whatever we were going to eat was still the oven so I was going to have to wait and see. The other guests introduced themselves like old pros, and we lost no time in digging into the artfully arranged hors d’oeuvres. To my surprise and delight, we pretty much skipped the “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” questions and dove into deeper, funnier conversations. These people were awesome! My nerves settled a bit.

When it was time to eat, one of the hosts admitted that she did, in fact, know of my mother. She earnestly explained that this meal wasn’t going to be as "impressive" as what I was accustomed to growing up in the house of the Pam Anderson. (How do you like that, Mom? You are the real Pamela Anderson. Ha!) And I dutifully said, “Oh, don’t be silly!” and all the things I’ve heard Mom say when she gets similar speeches.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but when they pulled three gloriously autumnal sugar pumpkins out of the oven, I was seriously impressed. They were serving us dinner from inside pumpkins? My mom’s never done that!! The pumpkin tops were dramatically lifted to reveal a dish that was as delicious as it is difficult to describe. It was kind of like fondue, kind of like French onion soup … without the soup. All I know is that when you scooped it out, there was melty cheese, toasty bread, and warm perfectly roasted pumpkin. So. Good.

They also served a beautiful salad with apples, walnuts, dried cranberries and blue cheese – the perfect accompaniment to the pumpkin dish. And finished the night off with gingery apple crisp and vanilla ice cream. It was, by far, one of the most decadent and delicious fall meals I’ve ever had. As we ate, the table was just bustling with energy, fun, laughter, and good-natured but intense discussion. It was a blast!

As Anthony and I walked home, taking in the crisp autumn night air, I thought to myself: Yes, the same conversation could have happened around a frozen pizza. But there is something so wonderfully tangible about the love you can feel when someone spends time planning and cooking something wonderful just for you. It’s great to kick back with old friends around a bowl of pasta, but sometimes its nice to meet new ones over a carefully and lovingly prepared meal.

And as I drifted off to sleep last night, I was feeling very full and very blessed to have both old friends and new ones.

Roasted Sugar Pumpkins with Cheese Fondue
This recipe is adapted from Gourmet magazine.

Serves 6 to 8

3/4 of a 15-inch baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices
3 (2-pound) sugar pumpkins
Salt and ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 cups each: coarsely grated Grueyere and Emmental cheeses, mixed
1 tablespoon olive oil

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees F. Arrange baguette slices on large wire rack; bake until golden brown, about 7 minutes; set aside.

Meanwhile, cut a 3-inch circle around each pumpkin stem; remove tops. Scrape out pumpkin seeds and fibers from interiors and tops; lightly season with salt and pepper.

Whisk cream, broth, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl.

Make 3 layers in each pumpkin in the following order: toasted bread, generous 1/3 cup cheese, scant 1/2 cup cream mixture.

Cap pumpkins and place in a small roasting pan; brush with oil. Bake in the 450 degree F. oven until pumpkins are tender, about 30 minutes.

To serve, scoop out portions of cheese, bread, and roasted pumpkin. We ate it with more toasted baguette crostini, but that is completely optional.

Related post: Simple, Seasonal Pumpkin Bread

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