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:

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