My mother is an excellent cook. But if there's one thing she doesn't do, it's patshke.
The Yiddish verb patshkn means to paint, smear, make a mess, or bother with something messy. In English, patshke is most often used to describe a kind of fussy, painstaking cooking ("That kugel has three pages of instructions--who would ever patshke so much?"). I've heard patshke combined with English suffixes ("I'm pooped from patshking all day over the shaloch manos") and in the infinitive ("My sister, the unemployed one, she loves to patshke all day in the kitchen. Me, I have no patience.").
Of course, in cooking, patshke is a relative term; we all have our own standards of what constitutes "too much" effort. For my mother, it's any recipe that involves a stuffing or a filling. She refuses to make both the outside and the inside of foods like hamentaschen, blintzes, or cabbage rolls. Too much patshke.
But once a year, on Sukkot, my mother makes an exception and prepares her legendary stuffed pumpkin. This recipe is noteworthy not only because it is delicious, but also because it is so quick and easy to prepare that it will please even cooks with the shortest attention span.
Stuffed foods have a number of practical benefits on Sukkot. A stuffed entree is easy to transport from the kitchen to the sukkah, since it usually incorporates vegetables, protein, and starch all in one dish. Stuffed foods also retain heat well, and this was an important consideration in our Canadian sukkah, where we shivered in our toques and mittens. According to kosher cooking guru Faye Levy, these two factors--portability and warmth--are probably the main reasons that a tradition of eating stuffed foods on Sukkot has developed.
While stuffed peppers, eggplant, and zucchini are popular for Sukkot in Israel, stuffed pumpkin is a good choice for the North American fall, when grocery stores and farmers' markets usually carry an ample stock before Halloween. If you want to make this recipe at a time of year when pumpkin is not available, you can replace the one pumpkin with seven or eight acorn squashes. But be forewarned: Stuffing all those little squashes might get a little too patshke!
Imma's Stuffed Pumpkin
(Note: The pumpkin should be big enough to feed a crowd, but small enough to fit in your oven. It's a good idea to measure the space in your oven before buying your pumpkin. You may have to remove one oven shelf to make room for the pumpkin to stand up.)
1 ¼ cups water
1 cup large Israeli couscous
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon oil
1.5 lb ground beef
2 stalks celery, diced
3 Tablespoons honey
¾ cup raisins
¾ cup dry red wine
Cut off the top of the pumpkin about 3-4 inches from the top, just enough to make a nice "lid" and provide easy access to the inside. Set the top aside. Use a spoon (a grapefruit spoon works well) to scoop out the pumpkin seeds and pulp. (You can discard the seeds or toast them for a healthy treat.) Use a fork to prick the outside of the pumpkin all around its circumference. Place the emptied pumpkin in a large casserole dish or shallow pan.
In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the couscous and a few pinches of salt. Return the water to a boil, then take the saucepan off the heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes.
In another pan, on low-medium heat, sauté the onion in oil until translucent. Add the beef and celery and sauté until the beef is browned. Add honey, raisins, red wine, and the cooked couscous. Stir to combine everything, then remove from heat.
Place the meat-couscous mixture inside the pumpkin, and cover with the top of the pumpkin. Cook at 350 F for 1.5 hours, or until the pumpkin can be pierced easily with a fork.
At mealtime, bring the whole stuffed pumpkin out to the sukkah. Serve each delighted guest a scoop of pumpkin with its accompanying meat filling.