For the Love of Zucca

For the Love of Zucca

Julie Jurden

pumpkinsIt’s finally October and the air is turning crisp. Before long, the leaves will be turning and we’ll all be donning our sweaters and jackets, ready for the brisk coolness of the season. The days are getting shorter, but the nightfall with the smell of burning fires is quite magical.

And what’s more quintessentially Fall than a freshly harvested, big and bountiful pumpkin? With its deep orange hue and fiber rich flesh, it conjures images of hayrides and bon fires, spooky scenes and tricks and treats, and even luscious pies with billowing whipped cream.

But the pumpkin really is so much more than our short-lived holiday prop.

To start with, pumpkins are actually a type of winter squash and therefore, technically considered a fruit. So the use of pumpkin for our holiday pies makes perfect sense – it’s a fruit pie. Although most canned pumpkin purees that you buy from the store are made from other squash varietals and less of the traditional pumpkin itself.

In the U.S., we celebrate the pumpkin during the autumn season by carving jack-o-lanterns or making all those sweet treats such as cakes, cookies, and pies. But primarily, that’s about all we do with it. I know, there’s that whole pumpkin spice thing. But as a dear friend of mine says, that’s an abysmal trend that needs to end. I sort of agree.

The truth is that the pumpkin’s broader versatility and varietals are often overlooked in the United States.

In Italy, the name for pumpkin is zucca (pronounced ‘suca’). The word is actually used to talk about the head given its shape. There’s an old expression that’s used frequently, especially in the Tuscan region, which says “Avere sale in zucca.” It roughly translates to having some salt in the head, meaning being smart.

Maybe it’s time we Americans get smart about making greater use of our pumpkins.

The zucca is celebrated in a number of foods and festivals across all regions of Italy. But Italians carve their pumpkins for eating and not for decoration. As a matter of fact, more pumpkins are actually grown in Italy than in America. This is probably because Italians take greater advantage of the multiplicity of this seasonal sweet. You can find it in pastas, risottos, soups, and gnocchi. It’s roasted, pureed, mashed, and baked. It’s eaten for dinner, and consumed as a snack. And yes, it’s also a starring feature in their desserts like flan, gelato, and pastries too.

But nowhere is the zucca more celebrated than it is in the Veneto.

In the seaside community of Chioggia, they are known for their heirloom sea pumpkin called Marina Di Chioggia. This varietal is large and bumpy with a dark blue-green shell. On the inside, the flesh is a deep orange color and tastes dense, silky, and full of flavor, making it perfect for sweet treats or savory dishes.

Once it’s cooked, it takes on a rich sweetness that almost tastes like a confectionary. As a matter of fact, it’s said that vendors used to walk the streets of Venice carrying wooden planks on their shoulders piled high with slices of these roasted treats selling them to schoolchildren as a sugary snack. They don’t do this anymore, but you can still buy slices of this delightful delicacy in the Rialto markets.

In the U.S., it may be difficult to find this variety, although some gardeners have successfully grown them for personal use. Instead, the butternut squash, which is very easy to find, is a pretty good option and goes well in both sweet and savory dishes.

Italians have nurtured this delightful fruit and continue to incorporate it into the family meal. They’ve made it a regular staple in their daily cooking arsenal and leverage that versatility to it’s fullest.

Zucca pumpkin pattern italian ceramics platesTo mark it’s importance, our Modigliani artists took from their Italian heritage and love of the pumpkin and created these unique pieces as part of the Zucca Collection. The rich colors combined with the zucca imagery make for a bountiful backdrop to any fall meal.

Festa Pumpking Ceramic Votive Holders
And if you love Halloween as much as I do, sprinkling these adorable Festa Pumpkin votives around your home is a nice way to introduce the autumn holiday spirit.

So go ahead and embrace the pumpkin in our favorite American traditions, but give our fall friend a chance by expanding your culinary skills with more sweet and savory dishes. Take a page from our Italian friends and roast, puree, or stew up a new dish for your family and friends. Their time on the seasonal food calendar is short-lived, so get creative and enjoy the pleasure that is pumpkin.