A stand-out centerpiece for a fancy dinner table, or a buffet, Shrimp in a Pumpkin is a familiar showpiece for Brazilian dinner parties, Christmas and New Year's feasts, birthdays, and anniversaries. Undeniably spectacular, it's also undeniably delicious, and for many Brazilians, it's their favorite way to eat shrimp. It's also undoubtedly one of the best ways to serve shrimp to a crowd.
In contemporary Brazilian restaurants, the dish is even popping up in individual servings, using the small mini-pumpkins that arrive in supermarkets in the holiday season. One of those, filled with shrimp and sauce is just perfect for one person. The traditional version, however, employs a large pumpkin to serve the entire party.
6 lb (3 kg) pumpkin
2 lbs (1 kg) medium shrimp, cleaned, peeled and deveined
2 tsp salt
1 small serrano or jalapeno chili (optional), halved and seeded
2 cups shrimp stock (recipe below)
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
5 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups cream cheese
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp good-quality curry powder
2 tbsp Tabasco sauce (optional)
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp neutral vegetable oil
4 tbsp finely-chopped Italian parsley
Shrimp stock ingredients:
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 cups shrimp shells (from 2 pounds of shrimp fresh or frozen)
Cut a circular opening in the top of the pumpkin (as you would for a jack-o-lantern). Using a spoon and your hands, remove all the seeds and strings from inside the pumpkin. Wash the pumpkin thoroughly inside and out, then dry the inside with paper towel. Reserve.
Preheat the oven to 205C (400F).
Put the shrimp in a large mixing bowl, then add the fresh-squeezed juice of two limes, the salt, the halved chili and the bay leaves. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate for about one hour (while the pumpkin roasts).
Wrap the pumpkin in aluminum foil, place it in a large baking pan, and roast it in the oven for about 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve, keeping warm.
In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp each of butter and olive oil, then saute the chopped onions for a few minutes, or until the onions are transparent but not browned. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes, or until the tomato begins to break down. Add the cream cheese, and combine thoroughly, making sure that the cheese has melted and combined with the other ingredients. Reserve, keeping warm.
In a mixing bowl containing the shrimp stock, whisk in the flour and continue to whisk until there are no lumps. Mix in the curry powder and optional Tabasco sauce. Stir this mixture into the cream cheese/tomato sauce, and reserve, keeping warm.
In a large frying pan, heat 3 tbsp each of olive oil and neutral vegetable oil. Remove the shrimp from the refrigerator and saute. Cook for a few minutes only, stirring constantly but gently, until all the shrimp have become opaque and turned pink. Do not overcook. Stir the shrimp gently in the the sauce mixture.
Open the top of the pumpkin (leaving the rest of it still covered with aluminum foil. Reserve the top. Pour the shrimp mixture into the pumpkin, filling it completely if possible. Return the filled pumpkin to the hot oven and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the aluminum foil, then place the pumpkin on a large serving platter. Sprinkle the surface of the shrimp mixture with chopped parsley. Serve on a buffet table or at the center of a dining table, with a large ladle for serving the shrimp from inside the pumpkin, along with a bit of the cooked pumpkin.