04 January 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Use Your Zucca

SARONNO, Italy – For quite a long time I’ve have the idea that the food of Lombardy isn’t as interesting as the food found in other parts of Italy, Sicily for example, or Puglia or Tuscany or even Liguria.  
Tortelli di Zucca
But the longer I am here, the more I realize that there are certain Lombard specialties that I’ve grown very fond of, namely tortelli di zucca and mostarda. 

Tortelli di zucca, or pumpkin ravioli, are a specialty of Mantua, a small Lombard city near Verona. They grow the best pumpkins in the world in that area, the small, lumpy dark green ones, and they mix the pureed pumpkin with  crushed amaretti cookies, a Saronnese specialty I might add, grated grana padano, the Lombard version of parmegiano cheese and a few other things and make tortelli with it. 

 Pumpkins from Mantua
Zucca tortelli are a little sweet and they are usually served with spicy sweet and sour fruit mostarda, much like Thanksgiving turkey is served with cranberry sauce.  Tortelli di zucca is one of the dishes created after Colombus discovered America and pumpkins began to appear in the market places of Italy.  
That is not to say that pumpkins were greeted with open arms and their use here is still fairly limited.  Back in the day cooking guru Pellegrino Artusi did not include them in his cookbook “The Science of Cooking and Eating Well” as he didn’t consider pumpkins a suitable vegetable for the emerging middle class.

 Sweet, hot and spicy Mostarda
One of the more colorful sayings here in Lombardy is “use your zucca”, or use your head, or you’ll hear kids calling each other zuccahead.  In other words, it’s not exactly a compliment.  But be that as it may, this is still one of my favorite dishes. As for mostarda, I’ll save that for next week.


The Filling
Amaretti – 100 grams (pulverized)
Grana Padana (or Parmigiano) 100 grams grated
Nutmeg – q.b. (quanto basta/to taste)
Grated lemon peel – just a pinch
Salt and pepper – q.b.
Pumpkin – 600 grams peeled pumpkin
Mostarda (the pears are best for this recipe) 100 grams

The Pasta

Flour – 400 grams
Pinch of salt
4 medium eggs

Peel and clean the pumpkin; rinse it and dry it with a clean towel, and slice it (1). Put the pumpkin slices on a sheet of aluminum foil (2-3) and cook them in the oven for about 1 hour at180°  Celsius.  

When the pumpkin is tender, take it out of the oven and let it cool. (4). Mash it with a passaverdure or with a mixer (5). Then finely chop the pear mostarda (6).  

Add the chopped mostarda to the pumpkin (7) and then add the pulverized amaretti (8), mix it all together with a wooden spoon and then add the grated Grana Padana cheese, the grated lemon peel, the nutmeg and salt (9).

Mix it all together and let it rest for at least 10 hour (10) for the flavors to blend. In the meantime make the pasta for the tortelli (11). Mix the flour, eggs and salt and knead until smooth (12).  

Roll out the pasta and divide it into two equal parts. On one part place little balls of the filling mix, leaving at least 5 mm between each one (13) Brush the edges of the strip with water, cover it with the other part of the pasta and close the edges with your hand (14).  Cut the tortellini in squares using a pasta cutter, leaving a border of at least 4 cm (15). 

Let the tortelli rest on a floured board until you are ready to cook them.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt and the tortelli, stirring  them  gently with a wooden spoon.  Drain them in a colander  and dress them with melted butter and a sprinkle of grated cheese. Serve hot.  

If you don’t have the time or energy to prepare tortelli you can cook macaroni or rigatoni and use the pumpkin mix as a sauce, always topping the dish with melted butter and grated parmigiano cheese. The filling can sit for a day in the refrigerator, and it will actually taste better after the flavors have had a chance to develop.   

Note: It's important to cook the pumpkin in the oven and not boil it as it will be too watery. The same holds for using canned pumpkin. 

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