Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Rotini

Pumpkin Stuffed with FontinaNobody would be surprised should you conclude from the last several month here that I own only one cookbook.  Ms. Greenspan’s tour de force does seem to occupy a disproportionate amount of my culinary bandwidth here these days doesn’t it? During the three-plus years I have visually fed from her book each Friday I remain both hopelessly devoted to her, the culinary spirit which oozes out of her book, and to the now infamous gaggle of spatula wielding kitchen denizens known as “Doristas”. There is a reason for this level of attention: The book is damn good.

(This Dorie situation is likely to continue throughout 2014 and the following year because, well, we’re just not done with the book yet.  French Fridays will necessarily peter out somewhere into 2015 when I have I have Bonn’d my last Ideé and the material runs out.)

I assure you, however, that I do own other cookbooks. I own dozens of them. Hundreds even. My decades-old collection grows weekly (to my husbands chagrin) as I seek out those that interest me enough to buy and  publishers and PR hacks send me even more in the misguided hope that I can compel at least one of my lucky 10 readers to shell out cash and buy one. 

I read them all and yet you won’t see much mention of them here beyond the occasional recipe citation. They mostly fail to foster any sense of personal connection the way Dorie has done with hers and there certainly is no sense of urgency as a reader to jump up and cook them all — or even to share them with you one at a time.

Instead of answering questions I might have about the ‘topic’ most of these books just leave me with more questions: who decided the world needed an entire book devoted to making marshmallows? Did anyone laugh out loud when someone pitched a book of chicken recipes themed with sado-masochistic preparations? Does anyone really believe Gwyneth Paltrow cooks her own food? And while we’re at it, how many “paleo-cookbooks” need to be published each year? Certainly there are only so many ways to cook seeds and dirt into breakfast muffins, right?

Each of these books were well-received and found many devotees among bloggers eager to share them which just goes to show you how very little I know about these things. I just can’t understand the online enthusiasm they get unless it could have something to do with the fact that so many of these books arrive on our doorsteps for free. Nobody is breaking down my door and demand I write a book and connect with more readers so again, what do I know? (Sorry, its not in the plan. Besides, my marshmallow idea is already taken.)

Pumpkin stuffed with Fontina and Sausage

Someone is making money with these publications so you have to imagine there is a market for these ill- defined” and narrowly constructed titles. They  aren’t for me, however, and they aren’t going to get the same level of my attention that a book like Dorie’ will.  For the kind of attention that will hold me enrapt for 5 years as I work through each and very recipe I will need more:

  • I need a culinary focus with broader based appeal. An theme that promises to take its subject to “a whole new level” and actually delivers on the promise. If the book isn’t asking me to reconsider what I think I may already know about the, leaving me eager to experience it on the author’s terms, then this book will languish in the garage next to my copy of “Fat Free Italian Cooking”.
  • A good cookbook needs good recipe headnotes.  I need to understand why the author included a particular recipe in their book. Why is this so difficult? Geesh. If I wanted a cookbook without headnotes I’d just go back to the 1950’s and get one.
  • It helps a book to have sidebars that teach me something new or includes useful bits of information. Perhaps they might suggest alternate ways to to enjoy the recipe itself. Sidebars that teach me something I don’t already know about the ingredients or what to look for when buying them are golden. Even better, suggest alternative preparations of the same recipe. When you do this then you are teaching me how to cook and not just giving me a list of instructions to follow.
  • Is it too much to ask for great visual design, well written recipes, and enticing photography? You would think this was taught in cookbook writing 101 but so often all I see is failure here. Please don’t write the book so I have to turn to page 230 to get a recipe for an ingredient spec‘d out for a recipe I am reading on page 57. I really, really hate that.  Also, if you can’t make the food look good in your own book then what hope do we unpublished mere mortals have of doing any better? Please remember this point before you set out to write a book about stew.)
  • Also, above all, take me somewhere exciting. I can download recipes ad-infinitum on the Internet but I need a book to actually go to places I’ve never been to before. Just as you have to spend more than a day in a new city before you can really understand it you need time with a book to truly get its message from it.  If you haven’t made a nice place so I can stay awhile you have written a reference book and not a great cookbook.

Why am I telling you all of this? I may have found just such a book in the newly published MELT: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord. Not only do I want to curl up and stay with it awhile but I am pretty close to committing to cook my way through the entire thing.

No, seriously, I think I do.

Pumpkin stuffed with Fontina and Sausage

With “Melt”, authors Stephanie Stiavetti (The Culinary Life) and Garrett McCord (Vanilla Garlic) give us “more” and then some. With this book they have managed to take the already unniversally appealing macaroni and cheese thing, a dish we all like and think we know pretty well, and run with it to an exotic and delicious place you didn’t know existed but can’t wait to go to. It is the cookbook equivalent to having you spouse come home with a ton of travel brochures and plane tickets. If you ever assumed mac and cheese was ‘simple’ then the inventiveness of these two  force you to reconsider that notion. The first thing you do on your journey with them is toss out your cheddar! These guys are intent on teaching you quite a bit about today’s cheese varieties along the way while they convince you take that Petit Basque and Brillat-Savain off of your appetizer cheese boards and toss them into the casserole.

The book is chock full of instant classics such as the Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni you see here – a dish  I have already made nearly half a dozen times. (If you double the filling you can make it two nights in a row no problem.) Heck, even the old classics you think you know like Tuna Noodle Casserole get a MELT treatment here to purposely disavow you of any repressed nightmarish memories you might still have of your grandmother’s version. For lovers of all things new and trendy the “Drunken Goat with Edamame, Fennel, and Rotini” or the “Savory Sheep’s Milk Ricotta with Raspberries and Capellini” are certain to please. (How is that for inventiveness?)

Matt Armanariz does the honors with the gorgeous and colorful photography here and nearly every recipe gets its own full sized photo treatment. If you were ever wondering whether or not photographing 50 versions of mac and cheese could get tedious and redundant Matt’s beautiful photos won’t let on one bit.

Pumpkin stuffed with Fontina and Sausage

2013 09 IFBC Doristas--12

Me, some Doristas, Dorie, and author Garret McCord

But guess what? Not only do I own more than one great cookbook, I now happen to know more than one great cookbook author as I count Garrett McCord amongst my friends. I had been a fan of Garrett’s amusing and honest blog writing for quite some time so when I saw he would be attending the same International Food Blogging conference I was going to attend last September I made it my mission to track him down while I was there. Lo and behold we ended up spending quite a bit of time together while this book was still on the cusp of its release. I’m sure that when he told me it was a cookbook about mac and cheese I didn’t look too enthused.   Sorry Garrett, but you most certainly got the last laugh as I never could have imagined it would be anything like this.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni

Garret and Stephanie’s book was barely out for 5 minutes when it became abundantly clear that this Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni recipe was going to be an early favorite and “instant classic”. Food bloggers went nut for it. My own creative twist was to substitute rotini for the macaroni.  Bam! This I did not so much out of any spasm of creativity or requirement to fix a recipe flaw.  No, my inventiveness was merely because rotini was all I had on hand. Nothing suggested changing – it all seemed so perfect –including its table-ready presentation. A full meal in a gourd? Yes please. Bring it to the table and slice it up.  Bravo guys. You should expect to see a lot more from this book here, Dorie permitting.

Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Rotini

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Rotini

Recipe courtesy of Garret McCord at Vanilla Garlic

This is what you will need:

  • 1 sugar pumpkin, or other sweet variety (not a carving pumpkin), about 5 pounds
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ pound mild Italian pork sausage
  • 4 ounces rotini pasta
  • 5 ounces Fontina, cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 2 ounces Gruyère, cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 3 scallions, diced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 cup heavy cream

This is how you make it:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/178°C. Cut a circle from the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle, the way you would cut open a pumpkin to make a jack-o’-lantern, and set aside. Scoop out the seeds and strings as best you can. Generously salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin, pop the top back on it, place it on a rimmed baking dish (since the pumpkin may leak or weep a bit), and bake for 45 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. If the sausages are in their casings, remove the meat and discard the casings. Crumble the sausage meat into small chunks and cook until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Discard the drippings, or save for gravy or what have you.
  3. Also while the pumpkin bakes, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process.
  4. In a bowl, toss together the Fontina, Gruyère, sausage, pasta, scallions, and herbs. Once the pumpkin is done baking, take it out of the oven and fill it with the macaroni and cheese. Pour the cream over the filling. Place the top back on the pumpkin and bake for 1 hour, taking the top off for the last 15 minutes so the cheese on top of the filling can properly brown. If the top cream still seems a bit too wobbly and liquid, give it another 10 minutes in the oven. The cream may bubble over a bit, which is fine. If the pumpkin splits while baking, as occasionally happens, be thankful you set it in a rimmed baking dish and continue to bake as normal.
  5. Allow the pumpkin to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Be careful moving the dish, as the pumpkin may be fragile. You can serve this dish two ways: Cut it into sections and serve them, or just scoop out the insides with scrapings of the pumpkin flesh for each serving. Either way is just dandy. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pumpkin stuffed with Fontina and SausageDisclosure time: I did not receive a free copy of “Melt” and I had to buy my own copy! I’ve bought at least 5 since for lucky friends and family. You will need to buy your own too since I am not giving any away. Shell out your cash and get your own. You will be glad you did.

The wine featured here, on the other hand, was a gift from the fine folks at Alamos Wines. I’m not in the habit of accepting freebies but how was I to refuse this? Not only did I meet Garret at IFBC last September but I also met the fine people from Alamos Wines and they were a hoot. They were serving up some mighty fine Argentinian wines and I must have been hanging around their booth so much that they finally promised to send me  wine to get rid of me. Bottles of Malbec and the lovely Torrantes showed up on my doorstep not long after I got home. It was probably casting against type to serve the citrusy, peach Torrantes with a Fontina cheese and sausage pasta but I the crisp finish I remembered so well from my first tasting was a welcome foil for the roasted pumpkin. (I’ve earmarked the Malbec for something coming up soon. Thanks Alamos!)


About Trevor Kensey

To be truthful, I don't know what “Sis. Boom. [blog!]" means either. The name implies something explosive just happened I suppose I would like it if each post would make made a small 'boom' in your day or at least a fizzle. Even though a recipe is included with every post I have a hard time calling this a "food blog" or even myself a "food blogger".

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  1. There is something insides of me that believes you can stuff anything in a pumpkin and it would be delicious. I will stay away from the obvious Italian sausage comment…that would be wrong?

    I anxiously await that recipe for dirt & seed muffins from your upcoming “dirt” cookbook. Perhaps if you put some bacon marshmallows on it? Or sprinkles? Heck, why not use both? True genius can not be fettered.

    P.S. Malbec should not be earmarked – it wants to be drunk, now…

  2. What a beautifully written and thoughtful review. We certainly are of a like mind on what makes a good cookbook, and this one is a gem. I always shy away from these “one topic” books – but this is really wonderful – so much great information. A cook could work his or her way through it with pleasure. For me, many of the cheeses were new, so it’s been a joy. I purchased a copy late last summer, after my friend Judy Witts Francini reviewed it – and made this very same dish. It is fabulous! Happy New Year!

  3. I completely agree with you about what makes a good cookbook. I am sick to death of books devoted to a boring, narrow theme … how many days in a row would one want to eat marshmallows for god’s sake??? That said, as gorgeous and tempting as the mac and cheese book looks, if I cooked from it regularly I would be as big as a double wide trailer in about a month. I do hope this post begins a trend of people actually buying things for themselves, it’s such a novel idea!

  4. You always make me laugh: cooking seeds and dirt into breakfast muffins… you forgot the smoothies. People are living on these things? I’m not sure if I should let my mac and cheese queen daughter hear about this cookbook: MELT. I am still trying to keep my weight in check after the wonderful dessert cookbook you recommended by Alice Medrich… but wow, that stuffed pumpkin is spectacular.

  5. This post was worth the wait. 🙂 I also agree with you about cookbooks.

  6. Now I want Dorie’s book and I want it bad. I also want the mac and cheese book, but one thing at a time. You are so right about having to cook many dishes from ONE book to get the true essence of it. I cooked for over a year out of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and I haven’t scratched the surface.

    By the way, the pumpkin dish looks just amazing.

  7. Anyone who writes a really good cookbook needs to show it to you first. What a lovely, well-written review about Melt and all that other stuff about crap cookbooks.

    Happy New Year, my friend.

  8. Happy New Year Trevor! Love you so much and hate the fact that I don’t have enough time to swing my as often as I would like to fill my heart with your honest writing and delicious photography. Please, lets make it a point to hang out at least once in this year. 🙂 Hugs! -Josie

  9. Ok well apparently I need this book in my life. Especially after reading a review like this!! Plus… a pumpkin stuffed with mac and cheese?? Brilliant!

  10. Oh man does your version of stuffed pumpkin look amazing! You always make me smile!
    I should have been hanging out at the wine booth…I got offers from ICE (0 calorie soda). It was good, but it wasn’t wine!! Happy New Year, Trevor!!

  11. Hmmm. I wonder who you mean? XOGREG

  12. Ha! Funny. I’ve been eyeing “Melt” and only heard good things about it so far. I linked to your post on my blog at: http://www.rawinthemiddle.com/link-love-7/

  13. That looks awesome! Think I’m going to cook it for the family on halloween


  1. […] don’t know which I like better:  Trevor’s rant about cookbooks or his pumpkin stuffed with fontina, Italian sausage, and rotini; from Sis. Boom. […]