Mini pumpkins stuffed with many flavors of fall

By: Susie Iventosch, special to Home & Garden
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Those darling Jack Be Little mini pumpkins used for fall table decorations are actually really delicious baked and stuffed. And, they make a beautiful color accent on a holiday plate. Like most squash, they are tough to cut through when raw, but when baked are easily cut and hollowed out to make room for the stuffing. Because these little guys are so small, they are especially awkward to handle with a sharp knife, so it’s best to bake them whole before attempting to cut through them. The bright orange color is perfect for Thanksgiving, but if you already have yams or carrots on the menu, you can always use the white and yellow tiger pumpkins, mini round sweet dumpling squash, acorn squash or small oval delicata honey boat squash instead. (These are also delicious filled with creamed arugula or spinach.) Newcastle Produce carries a nice variety of winter squash for this recipe and if you wish to substitute mandarin orange segments for the orange juice, or even mandarin juice, that would be delicious. Many area markets are now provisioned with plenty of locally grown mandarins. Or you can always head to the Mandarin Festival at the Gold Country Fairgrounds on Nov. 20, 21 and 22. (Nov. 20 is a preview day.) This event, presented by the Newcastle Business Association, also features a cooking contest. Mini pumpkins are still available in some markets. Sierra Market in Colfax has a small supply, but once they are gone, look for the baby sugar pie pumpkins or any of the previously mentioned squash for this recipe. The smallest sugar pie pumpkins or squash will serve two people, where the mini pumpkins serve just one. You’ll want to select the very smallest pumpkins you can find for this recipe, so the size is just right for one or two people. Check out your local farmers’ market, too, for a good variety of winter squash. For more information on the Mandarin Festival or the recipe contest, visit Susie can be reached at Suziven ---------- Baby pumpkins stuffed with cranberry-wild rice pilaf (Serve 4) Ingredients 4 baby pumpkins (or mini honey boat or sweet dumpling squash) 1 cup wild rice blend, cooked according to directions (Lundberg makes a good wild-brown rice blend). You want to have about two cups of cooked rice. 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon cranberry-maple rub (available through Two Spicy Ladies at the Auburn Farmers’ Market) ½ cup dried cranberries 3 tablespoon mandarin orange juice (or try tossing in mandarin orange segments) 1 tablespoon fresh herbs, minced (thyme, rosemary, and/or sage), or 1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs ½ cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped salt and pepper to taste Directions Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly mist a casserole dish (large enough to hold pumpkins or squash) with cooking spray. If using mini pumpkins, place whole in casserole dish and if using larger squash or pumpkins, cut in half, remove seeds and place cut side down in dish. Bake whole pumpkins for 45 minutes or squash halves for about 25-30 minutes, or until knife easily pierces through skin and meat. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Then slice off the pumpkins tops and scoop out seeds and stringy stuff, leaving pulp intact. (This has been done already if you’re using squash or larger pumpkins.) While pumpkins are baking, cook the rice according to directions. Set aside. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a sauté pan, add onion and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add dried cranberries and continue to cook over medium-high heat, until onions and cranberries begin to brown. Add rub and herbs and toss well to coat. Remove from heat. Stir in rice and orange juice (or orange segments) and mix well. Toss in toasted pecans. Spoon rice mixture into pumpkin or squash cavities and place pumpkin lids on top. Can be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated. When ready to serve, reheat for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Note: Cranberry-maple rub is excellent on salmon or poultry and makes a wonderful seasoning for Thanksgiving turkey. Two Spicy Ladies sells this fabulous rub online or at the local farmers’ markets. For more information, see http:// twospicyladies .com or call (916) 765-3717.