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Pumpkin Casserole

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Right from the Pumpkin Patch
At this time of year, there seem to be pumpkins everywhere: supermarkets have displays, hitherto empty lots become jack-o'-lantern heavens, and we start to imagine how cute the small ones would look decorating the walls of the Sukkah.
Food sections and magazines are also full of impossible dream dishes. Why? Because nobody can make them. There is a reason for this; no editor can resist the thought of how cute it would be to lift the top off a pumpkin, and spoon out a soup or casserole which has been cooked inside it. Well, the editor is in charge, so someone writes the story, and the photographer takes a picture for the cover. Nobody tells you that the pumpkin in the photo is raw. The story says it will work, so cooks try to prepare the dish. Oops, cooked pumpkin is as soft as any other squash, so everything collapses. Yes, it tasted great, but looked awful. 
Now, this is not to say that it is impossible to cook with pumpkins. They are marvelous ingredients, when used properly, and I'm going to give you a recipe which will do that. The best way is to scrub the pumpkin, scrape away the seeds, then cut it into chunks which can be used to line the bottom of a baking dish. Notice, I didn't tell you to peel them, for that is a really difficult chore, and the skin may just be left on the diner's plate to be discarded.
In the interest of fairness, I must say that it is indeed possible to stuff a very tiny pumpkin. Unfortunately, one which is small enough to hold its shape will not hold much else, but will cost many times more than a larger one.
The dish below is a very traditional Sephardic way to use pumpkin. A perfect casserole for the Sukkah, you will only need some rolls or biscuits for a balanced meal.
Pumpkin Casserole
1 medium-sized Pumpkin, about 6 pounds
1 1/2 pounds lean ground Lamb or Beef
2 large Onions, minced
2 cups finely minced Carrots
1 cup dried Apricots, diced
1 cup Currants or chopped Raisins
1 14 1/2 ounce tin diced Tomatoes in Juice
1 10 ounce tin Beef Broth
2 teaspoons ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Lemon Pepper
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Seasoned Salt
Scrub the Pumpkin thoroughly. Using a serrated knife, cut around the stem and remove it. Cut the Pumpkin into eighths, scrape away the seeds and pith, then halve the pieces once more. Lightly spray the inside of a large ovenproof-glass baking dish with Vegetable Oil, and lay the Pumpkin pieces inside, skin-side down. Set aside until needed.
Set a 4-quart pan over a medium flame and add the ground meat. Cook and stir, breaking up any chunks, until the meat is no longer pink. Add the Onions and Carrots. Keep cooking and stirring until the Onions are translucent. Add all the other ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
Pour the Meat mixture over the Pumpkin chunks in the baking dish. Cover with nonstick-coated aluminum foil. Cut 4 vents in the foil, and place the dish in the oven.
Bake for 1 hour
Remove the foil, and allow to bake for 30 minutes longer.
Remove the casserole from the oven, and allow it to rest for about 15 minutes before serving. This may also be served at room temperature.

Copyright 2002 Eddy Robey
Excerpts from It's Not Just Chicken Soup.
hosted by the Gantseh Megillah

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