Thursday, October 31, 2013

Roasted Pumpkin Centerpiece with Thanksgiving Fried Rice Pilaf

I’ve been looking for an alternative to holiday stuffing. Don’t get me wrong I love the toasted bread concoction that some people shove into their holiday birds and call “dressing.” But making stuffing from absolute scratch—baking bread, cubing bread, toasting bread, making homemade sausage and turkey stock, dicing and sautéing fruit and veggies--due to food allergies and intolerances constitutes hours of work and a huge mess in my kitchen.
So when I saw an orzo dish in an advertisement in through Savor magazine last week, I was inspired to try something similar with rice. I put the rice in a pumpkin because it’s pretty and adds a bit of squash flavor that really speaks of fall. The oven turns the pumpkin a deep burnt orange that will be the perfect centerpiece for your holiday table. This recipe makes a small portion for a two-pound pie pumpkin. You will need to experiment with cooking times for a larger pumpkin if you need more.
Although this recipe if fairly labor intensive (it took 2 hours to make), it is less bothersome than making stuffing. As a bonus this whole dish or parts of the dish can be cooked ahead of time. If you do make it ahead of time, I suggest reheating the rice mixture separate from the pumpkin and then putting them together already hot because they will reheat much faster that way. The pumpkin and wild rice and brown rice, and nuts (if you’re using them) can also be cooked days ahead, so you have a lot of flexibility in how you want to stage the steps in the recipe if available time and space in your oven become challenging around the holidays. The recipe instructions assume that you are making the whole dish at once.
To get cooked cranberries, I run water over my cranberry sauce in a strainer, but you could buy cooked, dried cranberries to use instead. If you want to use my method, the cranberry sauce recipe was posted previously.
Instead of the chicken sausage, you could use a cooked and diced chicken breast or vegetarian sausage or you can leave it out altogether.
I used walnuts in this recipe. However, the nuts in this recipe are completely optional because they are a last-minute garnish. I would not use them if someone at the table had a nut allergy. Alternately, the nuts could be replaced with seeds, such as pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, and prepared the same way. Seasonings such as chives, celery salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger can be added if you and your guests can tolerate them.
In the photo, I have used the cornels from a last-of-the-season ear of sweet corn and left out the greens. This pictured version has a diced chicken breast instead of chicken sausage.

½ cup wild rice
1 cup brown rice (I used basmati)
1 small pie pumpkin (about 2 pounds)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 apple, diced
¼ cup cooked chicken sausage or other sausage (optional) (see recipe below)
¼ cup nuts or seeds (optional)
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon cooked cranberries
¼ cup shredded greens such as spinach, radicchio, or baby swiss chard

1.     Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add ¼ wild rice. Reduce heat to simmer and simmer for 20 minutes. Add 1 cup of brown rice and increase the heat until it boils. Then reduce the heat to maintain the simmer. Simmer the rice until that are tender, about 35 minutes longer. Strain the rice through a fine sieve.
2.     Meanwhile, begin roasting the pumpkin. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cut the top off of your pumpkin and scoop out the stringy flesh and seeds just as if you are making a jack-o-lantern. The stringy goo doesn’t taste good, but you can reserve the seeds for another use if you are so inclined. Oil the inside of the pumpkin and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Replace the lid and put the pumpkin into a casserole dish in the oven. Bake uncovered for about 40 minutes or until the inside flesh is tender.
3.     Next we will “fry” the rice. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil on medium high heat in a large skillet. Then add the diced apple and stir occasionally until it is tender. This will take only a couple of minutes. Next add the sausage to reheat it. Last add the drained rice. Stir until it is thoroughly mixed and the rice is slightly oily and toasted, about 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. If you are not going to serve this dish the same day you are making it, this is a good place to stop.
4.     Putting the finishing touches on the rice is the next step. If you are using the nuts or seeds, mix them with honey on a baking sheet and sprinkle them with salt. Roast them in the 375 degree oven for just a couple of minutes until they sizzle just a little. If your pumpkin is still cooking, you can cook the nuts or seeds as it finishes. Mix in the shredded greens and cranberries while the rice is still warm and garnish with the nuts or seeds if you are using them.
5.     Put the pumpkin on a platter and put the rice mixture in and around the pumpkin and then serve. People will scoop out some of the pumpkin flesh when they spoon out their rice. This recipe serves 4 generous portions.

Simple Chicken Sausage
Grind a skinless, boneless chicken breast in a food processor or chopper. Stir in one tablespoon good quality honey, one teaspoon salt, and one teaspoon black pepper. You can add a pinch of red pepper flakes if you want it extra spicy. Shape the sausage into links or patties or cook as loose sausage. This sausage is very lean and will typically need to be cooked with a little oil in the pan.

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