It’s hard not to look forward to spring on April days when the sky is brilliant blue and the first blossoms are popping out on the trees. But the other evening as the wind howled down from the mountains and I stood in the kitchen chopping zucca, or pumpkin, I had that cozy feeling of being at home that comes with the winter months. I started chatting with my husband across the house about this winter and the things we enjoyed about that time of year. It was like a farewell.
And before too long we’ll be saying goodbye to the zucca in the markets as well. This is a winter staple that I look forward to each year as autumn comes. I just love going to the local fruttivendolo and spying the deep orange hues of a zucca, often tucked away behind the counter with a big knife nearby to cut off a hunk for anyone who asks. It’s hard for me to resist.
As it’s almost the end of the season, my husband brought home a big piece of zucca yesterday. We weren’t in the mood for pasta, which is excellent with zucca, so I cooked it the very simple and traditional way here on the Amalfi Coast. That means with aglio, olio, peperoncino and a bit of prezzemolo (garlic, oil, red pepper and parsley).
Let’s use the word “recipe” a bit loosely here, which is much the way I’ve learned to cook Italian food and indeed to fall in love with cooking after moving to the Amalfi Coast. Many of the dishes I make now I first learned while sitting in the kitchen with my husband’s family. Even in the first years when I understood very little Italian, I could still connect over cooking as I watched attentively and recreated dishes at home. Or many times my husband would call one of his sisters for a recipe and I’d overhear over the phone a few tips and directions and then have a go at it myself. So just consider this recipe like that phone call with a friend, jot down a few notes and get in there in the kitchen with some zucca of your own. It’s simple. I promise!
Recipe for Zucca
A big chunk of pumpkin (butternut or acorn squash works well, too!)
Extra virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, cut in half or smashed lightly
A generous pinch of salt (depending on taste and the size of the hunk o’ pumpkin)
Peperoncino (red pepper flakes)
A handful of parsley, roughly chopped or left whole
(1) Cut up pumpkin or squash into small pieces, about a quarter inch. The rind can be quite hard, so get yourself a big knife and be careful. I cut the zucca into about 1-2″ slices and then cut the rind off.
(2) Drizzle some oil in a large pot or deep pan and drop in the garlic. Cook over low heat until it begins to warm and sizzle, turning once or twice and pressing it into the oil to really release the flavor. You can remove the garlic now if you don’t want to try to fish it out of the pot later. I usually forget and pick it out later. See, easy going.
(3) Add the chopped pumpkin and stir well to coat in oil. Add a pinch of salt while stirring. Start with a small amount if you want to avoid over salting. If you want a bit of a kick, add some peperoncino at this step. We usually cook without it, but it is lovely in this dish.
(4) Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the pumpkin is soft. This can take anywhere from 15-35 minutes depending on the type of pumpkin. Or, if you’re like me and look at the clock 40 minutes before dinner and still have to chop that pumpkin, cover the pot with a lid and it will cook faster.
(5) When the pumpkin is cooked, test for salt and add the fresh parsley.
At this point you have a lovely contorno, or side dish, a light meal or you can add some water and partially cooked pasta and finish cooking the pasta with the pumpkin for pasta e zucca. Or you can add beans for zucca e fagioli. All very delicious and simple!