But we're getting distracted here from the main event. To prep your pumpkins, put your big (or your little pumpkins) and their tops on a baking sheet covered with parchment or foil. Rub a little vegetable oil over the flesh. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove top(s), turn pumpkins bottom side up, and continue baking for another 25-35 minutes, depending on size, until flesh is tender but firm and pumpkin still holds its shape. It's important not to wander off during this time, as the pumpkin shells will collapse if they're overbaked.
Now, what do you want to put in your pumpkins? If you're going to all the trouble of scooping and baking these babies, what's in them should be the main course, I believe. Which means something rich and stew-like, not the usual pashmina-smooth, curried or apple-y bisques. In the Bay Area, the skeletons and jack o' lanterns of Halloween are always interwoven with the sugar skulls and marigold-strewn altars of the Mexican Day of the Dead.
So why not use goat as a base for this stew, a traditional meat for the latter--and, with their spooky eyes and devilish implications, a perfectly haunting choice for Halloween, too. Halal meat counters and Latino markets are good places to find goat; you can also find it at Marin Sun Farms' butcher shop in Rockridge Market Hall. You could also substitute lamb.
Halloween Pumpkin Stew
If you're going to serve this in one large pumpkin or squash, make sure you pick out a good eating one, such as a rouge vif d'etamps or a musquee de provence. Both are wider than they are tall, an important consideration. Make sure the one you pick will fit in your oven before you start.
1 large, shallow pumpkin or squash, or 6 small bowl-sized pumpkins, prepared and baked as above
2 1/2 lbs goat or lamb, cubed
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp chipotle powder or smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 tsp thyme or oregano
1 bay leaf
1 cup red wine
2 dried ancho chilies, soaked in hot water until soft, seeds and stems removed, pureed in a little hot water until smooth, or 2-3 canned chiles in adobo, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen's fire-roasted organic tomatoes)
Roasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish
1. Toss flour, paprika, and salt together, and spread out on a wide, shallow plate. Roll goat or lamb cubes through flour mixture to coat.
2. In a heavy Dutch oven or wide, heavy saucepan, heat olive oil. Add meat in batches, browning on all sides over medium-high heat. Remove and set aside.
3. When meat has been cooked, add onions, garlic, celery, and carrot. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned. Return meat to pot.
4. Pour red wine over meat and vegetables. Add chiles, diced tomatoes, and thyme or oregano. Add water if necessary so that liquid comes half-way meat and vegetable mixture.
5. Bring mixture to a simmer, reduce heat, and cover. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender and liquid is reduced, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed.
6. Preheat oven to 350 F. Pour stew into prepared pumpkin(s). Bake for 30-40 minutes, until pumpkin flesh is tender and stew has thickened a bit. Taste for seasoning. Remove from oven carefully, since it will be hot and heavy. Replace lid and bring to the table.
7. Pass pumpkin seeds at the table for garnish. Scoop out a portion of cooked pumpkin with each serving, being careful not to pierce the skin.