Except for a Halloween display and its use in Thanksgiving pies, pumpkin is rarely served in the US. On the other hand, Italians, who grow a great deal of pumpkins, serve it in a number of ways. Cucurbitaceae, the genus that includes pumpkins, squashes and edible gourds, has nourished people for centuries.
Of all of Italy’s gastronomically diverse 20 regions, none utilizes the pumpkin the way the city of Venice does. Pumpkin, what the Venetians call zucca or”suca”, lasts through the cold weather and keeps until spring.
Marina di Chioggia (pronounced kee-oh’-jah), is Italy’s best known pumpkin. Dense, flavorful and silky, this pumpkin weighs about 4 lbs. Called “suca baruca” (warty pumpkin) in Venetian dialect, this slightly squashed sphere with gnarled, dark green skin and vibrant orange flesh is rich and sweet after cooking. Once, vendors walked around the streets of Venice balancing wooden planks piled high with roasted pumpkin on their shoulders, hawking, “suca baruc”, to eager schoolchildren or anyone else wanting a sugary snack.
The “suca” criers are gone, replaced by souvenir peddlers, but Chioggia pumpkins have become universally loved in Italy and beyond, and vendors with their big golden wedges of pumpkin still sell in the markets from the Rialto to Sicily. There are other types of pumpkins that are long, such as the Violina from Ferrara (a variety of Butternut squash) with rugged skin. Since some squash share the same botanical classifications as pumpkins, the names are frequently used interchangeably. This is the reason why Butternut squash is called “pumpkin” in Italy.
The Chioggia’s ancient signature dish, suca in saor, is sweet-and-sour pumpkin. Slices of pumpkin are salted in a colander, as for eggplant, to remove excess moisture. Next they are dredged in flour and fried in olive oil until crisp. Then they are layered with sautéed onions, raisins, toasted pine nuts and white wine vinegar. The dish is chilled for several days before serving it as an appetizer.
The US could grow Marina di Chioggia pumpkin, if there was a demand for it, though its sheer size would discourage shipping it to different markets. Widely available, however, are pie pumpkins, butternut squash and Calabaza that can be used in for Italian sweet and savory dishes or pies.
Overall, the Cucurbitaceae family’s bland and its compact flesh makes these squash an ideal canvas for the savory and sweet recipes the Italians cook. The blossoms are prepared in a variety of unusual ways, while the pulp is made into soup, risotto, pasta and gnocchi, to name just a few dishes.
They can also be used for savory pumpkin tarts with prosciutto and sweet versions made with pumpkin-honey-orange filling in a walnut-flour crust.
Italian Squash Stew
The combination of fresh pumpkin, black dry-cured olives, garlic and tomatoes may sound unusual, but it is a very aromatic dish. Pumpkin or squash alone is bland, but the dry-cured olives and garlic give it great flavor.
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 cup canned tomato purée, or ½ cup tomato paste mixed with ½ cup water
- 1 medium-sized butternut or Hubbard squash or 1 small pumpkin (about 1½ pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice
- 20 black dry-cured olives, pitted and halved
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil and garlic together until the garlic is fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, stir and bring slowly to a simmer, about 4 minutes. Add the squash, olives, thyme and 3/4 cup water. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until tender, about 40 minutes.
Season with the salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or chill and reheat gently before serving.
This dish can be made up to 3 days in advance.
Italian Sausage and Pumpkin Soup
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 leek, washed and sliced into half rounds
- 1 29-ounce can of pumpkin or 3 pounds of fresh pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into half-inch pieces
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 bay leaves
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 1 sprig sage
- 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
- Pinch of cayenne to taste
- 1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed and crumbled
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heat butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and leeks. Cook and stir until soft and lightly golden, about 10 minutes.
Add pumpkin, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Mix well. If using fresh pumpkin, cook until it softens slightly.
Add chicken broth , sage and thyme. Stir to mix. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until the pumpkin is tender and the broth thickens.
Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.
Brown the sausage in a medium sauté pan. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Stir the sausage into the soup and heat.
Serve the soup with Parmesan-Reggiano cheese on top.
- 16 ounces rigatoni pasta
- 1 small onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus extra for pasta water
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 cup half & half or whole milk
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a simmer. Add salt and the rigatoni and boil until al dente.
Dice the onion and garlic.
Melt the butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat; add the onions and garlic and sauté for about five minutes, until the onion and garlic are translucent and just starting to brown.
Combine the salt, Italian seasoning and flour. Add to the onions and garlic and carefully stir to incorporate. Next, add the pumpkin puree to the pan, stirring it together. Add the half & half or milk to the mixture. Give it a gentle stir until incorporated and remove the pan from the heat.
Drain the pasta and place it in a large baking dish. Add the pumpkin sauce and stir until the pasta is coated. Sprinkle the shredded Parmesan cheese over the pasta and place the dish in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the pasta is hot in the center of the baking dish and the cheese has melted.
Pumpkin Bread Stuffing for Roast Chicken or Pork
- 1 cup diced pumpkin (from 1 whole small pumpkin)
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 1/2 cups diced sweet onions
- 1 1/2 cups diced celery
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1/4 cup finely chopped sage leaves
- Salt and cracked black pepper
- 2 1/2 cups day old country bread
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/4 cup chicken stock
- Parsley for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F
Cut pumpkin in half and then cut each half into several pieces. Place the pumpkin on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Let cool, peel away skin and dice. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, thyme and sage, and saute for 5 minutes or until tender. Season to taste with salt and cracked black pepper.
Meanwhile, crumble the bread into a large bowl and add the sautéed vegetables. Stir in the beaten egg and roasted pumpkin and mix well. Then add the chicken stock and mix well.
Transfer stuffing into a medium-sized casserole dish and dot with the remaining butter. Bake for 45 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley.
To serve, cut stuffing into squares and serve with roasted meat.
Pumpkin Ricotta Cheese Pie
- 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
- 1 cup mascarpone cheese
- 1/3 cup of honey
- 1 cup of pumpkin
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
- 2 whole graham crackers, enough to make a scant 1/3 cup crumbs
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 cup almonds, pecans or hazelnuts
- Pinch of salt
For the crust:
Place the crust ingredients, except the butter, in a food processor or blender and process until totally ground, but not powdery:
Rub a little soft butter on the inside of a 9″ pie pan at least 1 1/2″ deep; use a deep-dish pan, if you have one. If your pie pan isn’t at least 1 1/2″ deep, substitute a 9″ square pan.
Pour the crumbs into the pan, tilting and shaking the pan to distribute the crumbs across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet, to make it easy to handle once you’ve added the filling.
For the filling
Beat together with a mixer the ricotta, mascarpone, pumpkin, honey, eggs and pumpkin pie spice. Continue to beat until creamy.
Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Bake at 350degrees F for 50-60 minutes or until the top of the center of the cheese pie springs back to the touch. Chill in the refrigerator prior to serving
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