Friday, September 17, 2010

Monster Zucca

Being a vegetarian my entire life- as well as a lover of food and a passionate cook- I’ve learned, over time, to be inventive in the kitchen. Furthermore- while living in Italy attempting to be a “healthy eater,” as well as a non-meat eater- it becomes somewhat wearisome eating the same “verdure alla griglia” (grilled vegetables) and green salads. I’ve always done my best to smile and chew- when eating at some of the best fish or meat restaurants in the world- raving about the eggplant this and the fennel that and the outrageous taste of the tomatoes and the freshness of the lettuce. And of course, there are the numerous evenings when I “fall off the wagon” and eat several baskets of bread, plates of creamy cheeses and heaping platters of carbohydrate-filled pasta.

In my kitchen, though- it's a different story.

Having lived all over the world- I have taken parts of each cuisine- different dishes and cooking methods- and integrated an assortment of items into my repertoire. I love to cook- I love to invent- and I love to experiment. That being said, I am lucky enough to be in Italy with some of the freshest produce in the world.

Yesterday, a friend of Antonio’s family lugged this huge green stripey vegetable thing into my kitchen. After he noticed my arched eyebrows and confusion, he says to me: “é una zucca- te l’ho portato dal mio giardino giú.” Translation: “it's a pumpkin. I brought it to you from my garden in Naples.” Turns out, upon dissection, it was indeed a pumpkin. So this fat, long, green thing- weighing half of what I do- was at last plopped down on my kitchen counter with a wink and a few words that can be translated into: “get to work.”

With my massive zucca, I invented about six dishes. I could have done more- after avid Internet research- but I am, as of now, limited in fancy kitchen equipment and elaborate ingredients. Basically, if it’s not grown, made and packaged in Italy- it’s nearly impossible to find. Of these six dishes, two were pretty good, one was a disaster, and three were absolutely delightful. So delightful, in fact, that I thought I would share- should anyone else come face to face with a monster pumpkin.

Below are pics and recipes.

1.     Pumpkin Parmigiana


Fresh Pumpkin- thinly sliced

Olive oil

Smoked provolone cheese

Parmesan cheese



Pepperoncino (hot pepper flakes)



To prepare the pumpkin: Take about 10 thin whole slices, drizzle extra virgin olive oil and salt- turn the oven to 225 f and cook until slightly browned.

Take another slice of the pumpkin and grate about 2 ½  cups- in a pan- saute two chopped cloves of garlic with pepperoncino, until garlic is soft and throw in the grated pumpkin, stirring until fully cooked and a bit brown- add salt to taste (also, if you like spicy- add more pepperoncino). Once the cooked shredded pumpkin has cooled, add about ½ cup grated parmesan and stir until mixture is even.

Take a medium sized casserole dish and begin layering- first, cover the entire bottom surface with the pumpkin slices (they should have enough oil on them to not have to grease the pan. Next- add a layer of the smoked provolone (this can be substituted by any soft cheese- but I think the smoky flavor goes well with the sweetness of the pumpkin. Add another layer of baked pumpkin and after, another layer of cheese. On top of the cheese, spread the shredded pumpkin/parmesan mixture as another layer in the dish. Follow that with the final layer of baked pumpkin slices Finally, sprinkle the remaining grated parmesan cheese over the entire surface of the top layer and bake. I left it in the oven for a good 40 minutes- but it will be ready when the top layer is sizzling and brown. Let cool.

Unfortunately, we had guests for dinner that night and I totally forgot to take a photo before we dug into the dish. However, I did manage to salvage one slice. Photo below.


2.     Pumpkin carrot soup


Fresh Pumkin

Whole Large Carrots

Vegetable Bouillon Cubes (1/ two cups of water)



Olive Oil




Plain Greek Yogurt


Boil about 3 cups of water with 1.5 bouillon cubes. Throw in two halved small onions (I used red, but any onion will suffice- depending on your tastes) and two whole garlic cloves.

While the water and ingredients are boiling- slice the pumpkin into ½ inch slices irrespective of size and drizzle with olive oil and salt and let bake until soft enough to cut into easily. (I used about 1 lb of pumkin)

Once the pumpkin slices are well cooked, throw them into the boiling water, along with a few cleaned and peeled carrots (I used ½ lb carrots). Add a bit of pepperoncino and a bit of olive oil.

Let boil until carrots are soft- about another 10 minutes.

Blend the entire soup mixture. Add about 1 cup greek yogurt, 1 tbsp honey and salt and pepper to taste. Blend again. Serve.  (I sprinkled a bit of parsley on top- but parmesan cheese, thyme, cream or yogurt can all work as garnish).


3.     Really Easy Pumpkin Zucchini fritters




1 egg

Breadcrumbs (I prefer whole wheat, but white work as well)



Olive Oil

Grate about 5 cups of fresh pumpkin and 2 cups of zucchini. Beat the egg while adding salt and pepper to taste. Mix together the egg and grated vegetables. Add breadcrumbs into the mixture until it becomes thick enough to mold into small patties.

Heat about 1 inch of olive oil in a frying pan. Place the patties into the oil and fry until golden brown on one side- flip and repeat.

I would place the patties on paper towels to drain some of the oil out before you serve. They are also great with a bit of greek yogurt on the side as dipping sauce- any variation works. 

(p.s. excuse the photo quality- I used my blackberry)

This is the zucca- and a few slices:
These are the slices baking in the oven. I know they look like pancakes. They're not.
This is a slice of the parmigianna. It was better than it looks:

Pumpkin Zucchini Fritters:
Pumpkin carrot soup:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Summer Snapshots

Sardegna photos as promised...

Monday, September 13, 2010

שנה טובה

Italy shuts down in August. Restaurants, businesses and at least half the shops are completely out for the count. Of course, a number of establishments must remain open due to the influx of tourists. But for the locals- Rome is, for all intents and purposes, closed. “When in Rome,” I try my best to do as the Romans do. And when “out of Rome,” I did as the Romans do as well.

The first half of the month was spent in Sardegna- in one of the most delightful and lavish hotels I have ever seen- hobnobbing with the rich and richer (and their Russian girlfriends). It was the vacation of a lifetime- shared with some of my best friends and loved ones, reminding me daily that life really is about the company we keep. Nearly two weeks were spent overindulging in excessive buffets, wakeboarding amongst yachts and massive seaside villas, shopping on private beaches and attending glittering parties and events while our eyes shimmered from the fine champagne running through our veins. (photos to come shortly).

The second half of the month, as I mentioned, was in the United States. I landed in Chicago, spending five days catching up with my sister who just moved to the city and attending the wedding festivities of one of my closest friends. I met Marissa seven years ago. We were both fresh out of college and decided to make a go of teaching English abroad. After an intensive TEFL course, Marissa and I were sent off to Lodi, a small town just outside of Milan. In truth, I lasted about three months as a teacher (some things just aren’t for me) and then bailed, leaving Marissa to brave the fog and Northern Italian winter alone. 

Marissa eventually forgave me and since then, we have kept in touch- keeping one another appraised throughout the years and miles that separate us. During the wedding weekend, we had the chance to revisit our ancient histories and laugh about our long-ago woes. I was reminded of all that I have to be thankful for- including: losing the freshman 15, finally speaking fluent Italian and for living, yet again, in my favorite country in the world. Most of all- I am thankful for people like Marissa who I have met by chance across one ocean or another- and having forged friendships that withstand the tests of time. Since the Lodi days, Marissa and I have each separately been around the world a number of times. We have both fallen in and out of love on a number of occasions, moved cities again and again, and somewhere in there- we managed to get masters degrees. The best news of the weekend came when Marissa told me that she and Jeremy will be moving to Rome next year- totally by chance- due to Jeremy’s career in the government. It’s a big world- and anyone who says differently has yet to see it- but it is the people in it that make it smaller.

After Chicago, I sauntered (rather- took a train) over to Michigan and spent a week with my family in their summer home, enjoying nightly sunsets over the lake, boatrides, lazy days on the beach and an abundance of good old american food. 

Back in Italy- the first week of September was relatively slow. As the Romans were unhurriedly filtering into the city- opening their shops, organizing their schedules, and arranging their plans- I was making deals with myself. September, as opposed to January- is the beginning of a new year. It's a time to create improvements- renew hope and fulfill agreements and promises- or at least try to.

This year, it just so happened that my first week back in Rome coincided with Rosh Hashanah…the Jewish New Year. Although I didn't attend synagogue- and I didn't blow the Shofar- I quietly celebrated at home on my own, making lists of all I plan to accomplish this year. I ate a modest lunch of apples and honey- as my days in Hebrew school taught me years ago, to signify a sweet new year. I thought about my family- and what growing up amongst them has instilled in me. I didn't pray- because I don't pray. But I did smile to myself thinking about my mother’s improvised holiday dinners- and being surrounded by the people who brought unconditional love amongst other blessings into our home- creating the childhood that will stay with me forever…even though that particular version of my family is long gone, as well as many of the people I loved so dearly in it.

So to all my family, friends and readers, I would like to wish you: Shana Tova- (שנה טובה)- a sweet new year to all. xx