The word “pumpkin” arrived in the English language in the 17th century, derived from the French, pompon, which came from the Latin, pepon, denoting a large, ripe melon. Melons were known to the ancients, but not pumpkins, which were New World vegetables. However, such facts did not deter modern writers translating Apocolocyntosis, Seneca’s satire of Claudius, as the “pumpkinification” of the late emperor. In the 19th century, the pumpkin connoted folly and empty-headedness, as gourd and colocynth did in ancient Roman times. Colocynth, the fruit of a trailing vine, is native to the Mediterranean region and Asia and is sometimes referred to as a bitter apple or a bitter cucumber.

Marina di Chioggia

Northern Italian and Sicilian cuisines feature numerous pumpkin dishes. The most highly prized pumpkin is Marina di Chioggia. This heirloom pumpkin from Chioggia, near Venice, weighs around 3-4 pounds and has a grey-green warty ribbed exterior and bright orange flesh.

The Italian word “zucca” is used to describe both pumpkins and gourds and “Fiori di zucca” is what we call zucchini flowers. The varieties of pumpkin grown in Italy are typically the big orange Halloween pumpkins as well as dark green ones. The quality and flavor of the pumpkin depends largely on the quality and nature of the terrain and soil. Two fruits from the same plant can be remarkably dissimilar in taste. Recipes and seasonings vary according to regions. During its winter season, pumpkin is used for the filling of tortelli, a stuffed pasta, and to flavor risotto. Pumpkin gnocchi are also popular.

Some popular Italian dishes made with pumpkin:

Tortelli Mantovani di zucca – fresh pasta pillows filled with roasted pumpkin puree seasoned with diced Mostarda di Cremona (candied fruits in mustard seed oil), crushed amaretti and a touch of nutmeg (or mace or cinnamon), and dressed with sage and butter sauce.


Risotto di zucca, made by gently sautéing tiny cubes of pumpkin with onions before adding the rice, for a quick no-fuss meal. Especially if you use the no-stir method for making risotto!

Zucca al Forno

Zucca alla Veneta , lightly floured pumpkin slices are sautéed in olive oil and then arranged in layers, with a torn basil leaves and raisins scattered over each layer. A dressing made by boiling white wine vinegar with a clove of garlic, salt and pepper is poured over the layered pumpkin slices and left to marinate, covered, overnight.

Sicilian Zucca Agrodolce is made by pan-frying pumpkin slices and marinating them in a sweet and sour sauce. The sauce is made by frying cloves of garlic in olive oil until golden. Sugar is then added to the pan and cooked to a golden caramel. White wine vinegar is then added to the pan and the sauce is boiled until it becomes syrupy. Roughly chopped mentuccia leaves are scattered over the fried pumpkin before pouring the hot syrup over. While this dish can be eaten hot, it is much better left overnight and eaten the following day at room temperature. Note: The term “mentuccia “is usually translated as wild Italian mint.

Zucca al Forno , comprising a slow-roasted whole pumpkin filled with mascarpone, Emmenthal cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sautéed onions, wild mushrooms and nutmeg, is spectacular both visually and gastronomically. The natural sugars of the pumpkin caramelize and meld with the cheeses as it cooks.

There are numerous Italian regional variations of pumpkin preserves and pumpkins can be used on their own for preserves or in combination with other autumnal fruits, such as figs and quinces.

Italian Spiced Pumpkin Butter                                                                                                

Makes 4-1/2 cups


  • Two 15-oz. cans pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/4 cups pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped hazelnuts (optional)


In a 5-quart Dutch oven combine all the ingredients except the nuts. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, 25 minutes or until thick. (If mixture spatters, reduce heat to medium-low). Remove from heat; cool.

Ladle into jars or freezer containers, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Cover; store in the refrigerator up to 1 week or freezer up to 6 months.

To serve, top with chopped nuts.

Pumpkin Cookies

Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies


  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or coat with cooking spray.

Whisk together pumpkin, sugar, yogurt, oil and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in cranberries. Stir together flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, salt, allspice and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet with a wooden spoon, mixing just until just blended.

Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls onto a prepared baking sheet, spacing cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Scones                                                                                                                                                        


  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 eggs, divided
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter or reduced fat butter, such as Smart Balance, cubed 
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling on top of the scones


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the pumpkin, milk, vanilla and one egg until combined. 

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Stir in the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.

Using a pastry blender, two forks or your fingers, quickly work the cold butter cubes into the dry ingredients. Work until the mixture resembles a crumbly, sandy mixture.

Add the wet ingredients to the crumbly mixture using a rubber spatula. Only stir until combined.

Carefully add 1/2 cup of the chopped pecans. Reserve the remaining 1/4 cup chopped pecans to sprinkle on the top of the scones.

Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Quickly knead dough by folding and pressing gently for 10 to 12 strokes or until nearly smooth. Pat dough into an 8-inch circle. Cut into 12 wedges. Place wedges 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.

In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg with a fork. Using a pastry brush, brush each scone lightly with the egg. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and the remaining pecans.

Bake for 15-18 minutes. Be careful not to over bake or the scones will dry out. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or store in an airtight. Scones also freeze well.

Pumpkin Cake with Rum Sauce                            


  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon each ground allspice, cloves, and ginger


Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, butter, molasses, and egg and beat until light and fluffy in an electric mixer. Add the remaining ingredients and beat slowly just until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Pour into a greased 8-inch square baking dish and bake in a preheated 350 degrees F. oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and serve with rum sauce (recipe below).

Serves 8 to 12.

Rum Sauce


  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • A pinch of nutmeg


Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Add the milk and rum. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring constantly.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Serve warm. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.