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Here’s the festive successor to the jacket potato with cheese: baked pumpkin with melty cheese.
Not many things can beat melted cheese in the comfort department. Its warming quality, the reassuring strings stretching from the dish to the mouth, invariably landing on the chin and having to be wiped with extra bread. Combined with a baked potato, it’s irresistible; but you have to allow the cheese to melt on the spud. The commonest mistake is hard cold grated cheddar shavings piled onto the potato skin. No – open up the burning hot potato, drop in a dollop of butter quickly followed by some Gruyère or Emmental and burrow, burrow, burrow in there with a fork until gooey strings appear. That’s the science of baked potato with cheese.
So if you need to feed a crowd of trick-or-tricksters back from their rounds, sick to their gills with candy; or a post-firework, slightly frozen or drenched to the bone party – here’s one better than a jacket spud. It is tasty; it can be prepped in advance; it’s fun for the kids and it features a hipster-approved veg. Use the munchkins, use a grown-up squash (just not too big; it will get cold too quickly) – and never, ever try cooking the cheese in the pumpkin from scratch. It will split and curdle to hell and do nothing for the taste of either itself or the edible vessel.
Sliced gherkins, a few lettuce leaves, a ton of apple chunks – and it’s no trick. It’s a treat!
- 1 munchkin pumpkin per person (see below for baking times of larger pumpkins)
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- For the melty cheese (for four individual munchkins):
- 100g Gruyère or Emmental cheese, grated
- 100g Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, grated
- 2 tsp cornflour
- ½ tsp mustard powder
- a grating of nutmeg or a pinch of ground cloves
- 100ml dry white wine (or very light vegetable stock)
- 1 tbsp. orange juice
- 1 tbsp. dry sherry or kirsch (optional)
- To serve:
- quarters of green apples
- cucumber cut into sticks
- bread cut into sticks
Munchkin pumpkins are the most fun and individual ones mean you don’t have to worry about keeping a huge one hot at the table. If you decide to bake a large one though, here are the baking times at 180C/350F/gas 4: munchkins - 30 mins; 1kg/2lb 4oz squashes & pumpkins - about 1 hr; 1.5kg/3lb 5oz - about 1hr 30mins.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Cut the lids off the pumpkins with a bread knife and reserve. Using a smack knife and a spoon, hollow the pumpkins, scraping out all the seeds and flesh from the sides, leaving a hollow the size of a small cup. Pop half a garlic clove into each one, put the lids back on, place the pumpkins on a baking tray and bake for 30 minutes.
In the meantime prepare the cheese: toss both grated cheeses with the cornflour, mustard powder and the nutmeg. In a small saucepan bring the wine and the juice to the boil. Add the cheese gradually, whisking it all the time over medium heat until completely smooth. Add the kirsch and cook, whisking, for another minute until it thickens and becomes glossy.
When the pumpkins are cooked, remove them from the oven and turn it up to 200C/400F/gas 6.
NOTE: you can make it all ahead up to this stage and chill the pumpkins and the cheese mix. An hour before serving fill the pumpkins with cheese and bake in a preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until the cheese is bubbling.
If serving straight away, pour the cheese into pumpkins and return them into the oven uncovered, for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is bubbling. Serve with spoons to scoop chunks of the pumpkin flesh with melty cheese.