I agonized — let me tell you — about what to call this recipe. First, in my head, it was a pumpkin pot pie. But that sounded too much like a plain old pumpkin pie; or like a pot pie with little chunks of pumpkin floating around. Not appetizing. Then it was a poultry pot pumpkin. That, I thought, was cleverer. But it was unclear to the folks on whom I tested it what the pot meant, given that we don’t live in Colorado or Washington State. I went back and forth until Sarah finally told me: why don’t you give it a descriptive — not cutesy — title? Your readers will appreciate it, and the fairies at Google who decide how to rank pages will appreciate it too. So I did. And it’s what you see above.
But no matter what this dish is called, here’s the important part: there’s lots of stuff floating around on the Internet about what to cook for Thanksgiving. I’ve posted here, in fact, about how one might go about roasting a turkey, making squash side dishes, and even pumpkin mousse. But what’s really important in this season of too much food is not what you do on the day itself, but — clearly — how you handle the leftovers.
And that’s what the pumpkin-poultry pot pie is. A method for transforming leftovers into something tasty and new.
Now I know, in every family there’s somebody — a cranky old uncle or somebody — who wants to tell you: don’t touch that turkey! Who wants nothing more than to sneak downstairs in the morning, after a long night of digesting, and eat open-face turkey sandwiches on white bread slathered in mayonnaise. Or maybe there’s somebody else — a traditionalist-but-foodie cousin, perhaps — who wants his or her sandwiches on whole grain bread, piled with layers of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.
I respect those people. But those people, I think, don’t understand the range of possibilities available to them. You’ve got a lot of food left after your Thanksgiving feast. And lets face it — the parts of the bird that your guests haven’t devoured aren’t the parts you necessarily just want to … eat.* So how do you make those poultry pieces appetizing? How do you make leftover-day a treat and not a chore?
My answer has always been to throw a brunch the morning after Thanksgiving: to serve Mimosas and Bloody Marys, eggs, bacon, and crepes filled with a hash of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry syrup (it’s a simple matter to go from leftover cranberry sauce to cranberry syrup; just pass it through a strainer).
But that relies on the idea that everybody is up to brunch — that Uncle Bernie isn’t hung over, or that cousin Bernice with her two kids in tow doesn’t want to sleep in just one — one! — day a year.
This current solution — the pumpkin-poultry pot pie solution — has the advantage of being oriented toward dinner. It’s a creative, take-something-old-and-make-it-new Thanksgiving leftover option that gives your guests some time on Friday morning. It lets the out-of-towners go siteseeing, and the locals go black-Friday shopping. And it lets you decompress for just a minute before you have to dive back into the kitchen and the burden (joy!) of entertaining your guests.
Plus, it’s a pot pie with no fussy shortcrust to fix. Which means it could be made to satisfy those weird, finicky gluten-free folks who always seem to end up somewhere in the mix.
What follows is a pumpkin-poultry pot pie derived from my batch of leftovers. If your leftovers are slightly different — which I suspect they will be — I say go with it. Some meat, plus some vegetable, plus celery, onion, and carrot is a pot pie no matter which way you cut it. And if you have, say, a cup of cubed ham to throw in — all the better!
Pumpkin-Poultry Pot Pie
4 Small Pie Pumpkins
3-4 cups Turkey or Chicken, torn into bits
3-4 cups Roasted Root Vegetables
1 1/2 cups Turkey or Chicken Stock
2 Ribs of Celery, diced
2 Carrots, diced
1 Medium Onion, diced
3 tbsp Butter
4 tbsp Flour
A handful of Corn Chips or Crackers
Preheat your oven to 375F. Cut the tops off the pumpkins like you’re carving a Jack-O-Lantern. Gut them (obviously saving the seeds to roast), scrape their insides well, rub them all over with olive oil, and then sprinkle their insides liberally with salt, pepper, and sage. Then place them on a baking sheet and roast them for 30-40 minutes, until they are almost, but not quite, cooked all the way through.
To make the filling, over a medium flame, melt the butter in a 3-4 quart saucepan. When the pan is well lubricated, add the celery, carrot, onion, and a pinch of salt and cook for 5-10 minutes until the onions and celery are starting to soften and turn translucent. Then add a sprinkle of thyme and sage, about ten grinds of pepper, and the flour.
Cook for 5-10 minutes more to get the raw taste out of the flour, then add the stock. Whisk thoroughly, making sure to scrape the bottom. And keep whisking until the whole thing comes to a boil and thickens into a gravy.
When the gravy has thickened, add your collection of leftovers (the meat and the vegetables), and allow the whole thing to cook together for a few more minutes until the mixture is warm all the way through.
When the filling is done, ladle it into the pumpkins, filling them up all the way to the top if you can manage it. Then crush your corn chips or crackers and sprinkle the crumbs all over the openings.
Turn the oven down to 350F, and bake the filled pumpkin pot pies for one hour.
Serve straight from the oven — one pumpkin to every two guests — and enjoy!
* In my family, mounds of breast are always left over, because who likes the white meat? In your family, results may vary.