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Italians and Their Pumpkins
Discover how Italians enjoy pumpkins in the fall
by Francesca Di Meglio
Italians enjoy pumpkin dishes in the fall almost as much as Americans. They don't have the same varieties of pumpkins and squash. For instance, butternut squash has proven nearly impossible to find in southern Italy. But they do have many pumpkin recipes that will be calling your name all the same. And you can always use whatever pumpkin you find in Italy to replace in your American recipes and visa versa. I have done it for butternut squash soup many a time, and I never disappoint. So, if you want to impress friends and family with Italian pumpkin recipes, here are a few you might consider:
Just before the winter begins and the pumpkins begin to rot, my husband cuts them into chunks and puts them in the freezer. This way, we can have pumpkin on hand for recipes long after the fall has ended. Of course, here in the States, butternut squash, acorn squash, and the like are just as good. And if you're sticking with true pumpkin, go with sugar pumpkins (the small orange ones), which pack the most flavor. Hubby and his family like to slice the pumpkin and grill it. Then they bathe the grilled pumpkin in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. For those who like a kick, you can add some red pepper flakes or hot pepper seeds. This works as either a side dish or – even better – as a seasonal addition to your antipasto platter.
An obvious way to eat pumpkin is stuffed into Italian ravioli. There are many recipes for making your own ravioli even in the States. I use a Sandra Lee recipe that has you combining ricotta, canned pumpkin, onion soup mix, and a couple other ingredients. Then, you put spoonfuls of this mixture in between frozen won ton wrappers that you can get in many supermarkets. But for a more authentically Italian version, you can try this one from the Semplicemente Insieme blog. Or you can consult whatever books came with your pasta maker. Italians don't ever use canned pumpkin, although I always do. You could try to use fresh pumpkin. If you do, just be sure to add more spice and seasoning because some fresh pumpkins can be bland.
My in-laws are always making pumpkin risotto. It's a staple of their diet. It's no wonder. Italians are always worrying about digestion, and pumpkin is supposed to be a great cleanser for the stomach. It's mild enough that the Italians had me feeding this to my son when he had a month-long bout of diarrhea in Italy. In any event, there are many recipes for pumpkin risotto. You can pick your favorite. The one by Antonio Carluccio looks interesting because it includes rosemary, which I haven't tried. Whatever recipe you choose, you should find the final product to be creamy and delicious.
Honestly, the Italians I know really hate the idea of pumpkin in their desserts. None of them have ever enjoyed pumpkin pie or even pumpkin ice cream. If I were trying to impress Italians, I would reserve my pumpkin dishes for the rest of the meal and serve something else entirely at dessert. Traditional cheesecake – not pumpkin flavored – is usually a big winner with the Italians I know.
Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press Travel, 2012) and you can follow her life and work at the Two Worlds Web site.
Article Published 10/1/12
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