All Hallows Eve is just around the corner. Have you made plans for dinner yet? Do you have children heading out to collect as much candy loot as they can haul in their not-fully-developed arms? Or are you the neighbor with the 5-gallon bucket filled to the brim with candy, and bags waiting in the wings to refill it? The neighbor who hands out candy while dressed as Vincent Price’s abominable Dr. Fibes? Are you looking for a dinner that can compete with the above scenarios? How about some zombie stew served in a jack-o-lantern.
Ok, so it’s not really zombie meat. We all know zombie meat is very difficult to come by and much too expensive to serve in common stew. And really? A jack-o-lantern? The stew would leak out the scary mouth, nose and eyes. We’ll just have to content ourselves with common pork tenderloin and a pie pumpkin to serve it in.
Pork tenderloin is perfect for this meal. It’s quite inexpensive, very lean, super tender and easy to prepare. A vacuum-pack has two muscles in it, and unless you are only serving two people and don’t want leftover stew, you will need both. Trimming a tenderloin is easy. The broad piece of silverskin that partly covers the butt end of the tenderloin needs to be removed along with the tendon located between the large muscle and the smaller muscle also at the butt end. Because this meat is so tender, even for short cooking times, the pieces of meat can be left fairly large. Bite-sized pieces will probably fall apart while this stew simmers, so aim for 2” cubes.
The pumpkin is another matter altogether. Pie pumpkins are usually impossible to cut into when they are raw. We can soften the outside skin enough to cut into if we give these diminutive orange globes a 20 minute roast in a 300°F oven. Just remember to punch a steam vent in the top. Use an ice pick or a small screwdriver and a hammer to make a neat hole. We’ll eventually cut the lids off and scoop out the seeds, and then these pumpkins can roast in earnest to completely cook the flesh and develop the sweetness that can only be achieved with roasting vegetables. Some of the cooked flesh will need to be scooped out to make room for the stew, but don’t get rid of it. Either save it for another recipe, carefully cut it into cubes and add it to the stew, or serve it as a mashed side dish seasoned with a bit of butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
But we’re not done yet. Before serving the stew-filled pumpkin to your hungry crew, top it with a grated blend of gruyere, fontina and pepperjack and give it a few minutes under the broiler to melt and brown the cheese. Serve this stew with a hearty sour dough loaf, a chewy baguette or hunk of dense brown bread.
Zombie Stew in Pumpkin Bowls
- 1 pie pumpkin for each person
- butter, salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 1 package pork tenderloin (2 muscles), cleaned and cubed
- 2-4 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 3-4 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 4 cups chicken broth, plus additional if necessary
- 1 large onion, medium dice
- canola oil or other mild vegetable oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup butter
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- grated gruyere, fontina and pepperjack cheese
Preheat oven to 300°F. Punch a steam vent in each pumpkin top and roast pumpkins for 20 minutes. Allow the pumpkins to cool enough to handle. Once the pumpkins can be handled, heat the oven to 350°F. Cut lids off the pumpkins and scoop out the seeds and stringy parts of the flesh. Rub the inside of each pumpkin, including the lids with butter, salt and pepper. Place the pumpkins and lids on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes. Check to see if the flesh is soft all the way to the skin being careful not to pierce the skins. Roast for an additional 10 minutes or until the pumpkin flesh is soft. While the pumpkins are roasting, melt the ¼ cup butter in a small skillet until it stops bubbling. Stir in the flour and continue stirring and cooking the roux over low heat until the butter begins to brown and the mixture has a nutty aroma, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to come to room temperature.
Once the pumpkins have roasted completely, scoop out enough flesh to make room for the stew. Let the pumpkins cool while the stew is prepared. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the oil and onions. Sweat the onions until they are soft, fragrant and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the pork and gently brown the meat on all sides. Add the carrots and potatoes and stir them in the oil for an additional 2 minutes. Pour enough chicken broth over the meat and vegetables to cover everything. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender, but not too soft. Add the roux to the pan and simmer covered until the stew has thickened, about 30 minutes.
Ladle the stew into each pumpkin and top with grated cheese. Heat under the broiler until the cheese has melted and browned. Serve immediately.