In a Rome market, I met and fell in love with her; Zucca Mantovana or Mantua Pumpkin. Little did I know at the time that she is the queen pumpkin, renowned throughout Italy. Unlike the pumpkin of my childhood Halloween carving days, she is transformed into many dishes.
Window shopping at food markets is a pastime for me. It started decades ago in Boston and NYC and followed me to the markets of London where I lived in another lifetime. I peruse fruit and vegetable stalls, fish vendors and butchers, cheese mongers and deli stands. I’m giddy like our puppy Chloe when she runs like the wind around Villa Pamphili. Food markets are where I create, where I think like a chef and where I tap into local culture, customs and recipes. Therefore, when I meet an ingredient that is unfamiliar, I buy it and ask locals how to cook it.
Pumpkin, zucca belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family that includes watermelon and zucchini. C. pepo (an extension of the zucca genus) includes squash, gourd and pumpkin. In Italy there are a seemingly endless variety of pumpkins that are harvested from August to September and continue to ripen in the sun. But back to my lady Mantovana.
Mantovana grows in the north around Mantua in the region of Lombardy. She is the star of the city’s symbolic dish, tortelli di zucca di Mantova – pasta filled with Zucca Mantovana, Parmigiano Reggiano, mostarda Mantovana, and crushed amaretti cookies, tossed in sage butter and topped with a hearty handful of grated Parmigiano.
She holds a place in my autumn cooking rotation. With her flat top and bottom and green-grey color, her orange pulp is compact and sweet, making her the best amongst edible zucche. Her subtly sweet pulp makes her suitable for a range of recipes from appetizers to desserts. In my kitchen she’s the star of savory dishes. Nothing goes to waste from the skin to the seeds and pulp. I salt and toast the seeds for a healthy snack. I roast slices with fresh herbs, salt, pepper and olive oil, as taught to me by Eleonora.
With zucca for example, I make pumpkin gnocchi tossed in butter and sage.
I add her to soup, vegetable broth, risotto, and pasta and bean dishes.
I fry and marinade her too with mint, sugar and vinegar. She makes a luscious pumpkin-parmesan mash too; a great addition to any Thanksgiving day lineup.
Curious about cooking with pumpkin? Join me for an online cooking lesson on November 21. We’ll make pumpkin risotto with fried sage leaves, drink wine and I’ll introduce you to the queen zucca Mantovana.