As Christmas grows nearer and everyone starts to get in the mood of the season, our calendars are slowly but steadily being overtaken by dinner parties and get-togethers. It is a really wonderful time of the year, we all sit back and talk about the year we have had over lovely wine and delicious food cooked with care.
We hosted our own dinner last week, with some of J’s colleague’s, which turned out very well! (to my surprise!)
As you know from all the posts I have uploaded onto Feta & Arepa, most of the food I cook is in the form of salads (hot or cold), soups and perhaps the odd chicken dish. Overall it is healthy and quite simple; there is not a lot of fanciness in my approach, particularly when it comes to more specialty meats (like preparing a roast beef or leg of lamb). But hosting a dinner around this time of the year, calls for something special and a little fancier than the usual fair. So I started researching, learning and scouting out for something that would be pretty scrumptious to delight our guests. The menu went as follows:
- Roast garlic & rosemary leg of lamb
- Honey Mustard Candied Sweet Potatoes, Carrots & Parsnips
- Christmas Spiced Orzo Stuffed Mini Pumpkins
- Colourful fresh Salad topped with pomegranate
The thinking behind the menu: is that it had a strong Greek accent (lamb, orzo, pomegranates and freshness of the salad) but with a definite twist from favorite tastes of Thanksgiving, which make one feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Also, lamb has such a strong flavor that I wanted the other dishes to stand up to it, using spices (cinnamon & cayenne) which other cultures frequently combine it with. All in all it worked out really well, and (predictably) we had a lot of left-overs (the real perks of hosting a dinner at your place).
The lamb, which was my biggest stress, came out pretty amazing. Super juicy, very tasty and everyone had seconds – unfortunately I didn’t have the time or opportunity to photograph anything at the time. But my favorites, which I want to share with you in this post, were the stuffed mini pumpkins. They are an ultimate comfort food, filled with winter spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cayenne pepper and cumin), the sweetness of the pumpkin & sultanas and the substance of the orzo – they are a full meal on their own, and particularly good with feta! Not only that, they are a super amazing left-over because they also convert well into a completely new dish, when chopped up and tossed cold within a salad the next day(topped with feta!!)
Christmas Spiced Orzo Stuffed Mini Pumpkins
- 2 mini pumpkins
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 large white onions, diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 pinch of ground cloves
- 1 pinch of grated nutmeg
- 1 pinch of allspice
- 1 pinch of cayenne pepper
- 2 cups orzo
- 2 cans chopped tomato
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- ½ cup of sultanas (& craisins if you have any around)
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- salt & pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 175˚C. Wrap each mini pumpkin completely with foil, and bake in the oven for 30-40 mins, until slightly softer to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool.
- While the pumpkins are roasting, place a large pan(or pot) with 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat.
- When hot, add the diced onions and fry for 2 minutes, then add garlic and fry until fragrant.
- Add the spices and fry for 15 seconds, then add the orzo and chopped tomatoes with their juice and brown sugar. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add the broth and sultanas and cook for a further 10 minutes until the orzo starts to soften and cook. Add the pine nuts, salt and pepper and keep simmering over low heat until you are ready to stuff your pumpkins.
- When the pumpkins are cooled off, carefully carve out a lid and remove. Discard all the seeds, and carefully carve out the flesh from the pumpkins, leaving behind an even 1 cm thick layer to help the pumpkin retain its shape.
- Chop up the flesh and add to the orzo mix, fold in and cook for 5 minutes to incorporate the flavors.
- Sprinkle a little bit of sugar and olive oil across the 2 pumpkin shells. With a large spoon start stuffing each pumpkin with the orzo mix, until it is filled 1 cm from the top. Add 2 tables spoons hot water into each pumpkin and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes of cooking.
- Once it is cooked through, remove from oven plate in a beautiful dish, worthy of all the work you have put in. Serve in slices with feta!