Food Matters – The Pumpkin Parade

pumpkin don
pumpkin don

Although I look pretty happy in this photo, it was only because my parents were allowing me to sell our pumpkin harvest to passing motorists at the end of our driveway. The more pumpkins I could sell (25 cents for small, 50 for large), the more change would jangle around in my pocket so I could buy really good tasting stuff like candy bars and jujubes.  I hated pumpkin and squash when I was growing up, with the exception of my Aunt Polly’s sweet pumpkin pies topped with whipped cream.

Tortelli di Zucca
Tortelli di Zucca

It wasn’t really until I moved to Northern Italy for a year and started eating the traditional ‘tortelli di zucca’ that I was converted to enjoying a savoury pumpkin dish.  And why not? The secret ingredient in the pumpkin filling for the tortelli is a handful of crushed-up amaretti cookies. Along with a rich sage-butter sauce and a snowfall of parmigiano-reggiano cheese, who could not like them?

Now I make these often and it has become kind of a signature dish for me, especially for students taking my Pasta 101 courses at Cook Culture in Victoria.  The recipe, including the method for making basic pasta dough, is pasted below.

pumpkin creme brulee
Pumpkin Creme Brulee

The other recipe I made for the special edition of Food Matters recorded for All Points West last week was a pumpkin creme brulee.  Creme brulees are actually very easy to make, and you can get a fancy creme brulee torch at a cookware store or just use a plumber’s propane torch like I do…but be careful when you play with fire, okay?

The recipe for the creme brulee was found on Epicurious at this link.  I didn’t have time to make the pie crust as recommended in the recipe, so I just put it in a nice pie dish and baked it, with fantastic results.  You can also pour the mix into individual serving-sized ramekins on a baking sheet and throw that into the oven for about the same amount of time recommended for the larger pie shape. It will make about 8 small ramekins.

And now here are the Tortelli di Zucca and pasta dough recipes, buon appetito!

Tortelli di Zucca – you will find almost as many different versions of this recipe as there are towns in Emilia-Romagna. None is ‘the’ recipe. This is my own variation. Feel free to make changes!

1 recipe pasta dough (recipe follows)

For the Filling:
1 pound pumpkin, or squash, seeded and cleaned of fibres but not peeled
Olive oil
1 small package amaretti cookies, finely crushed
½ tsp nutmeg or cinnamon
1 egg, beaten (optional)

For the sauce:
1 bunch sage, stemmed, washed and dried
¼ to ½ pound butter
To Finish: Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Method: Make the pasta dough and set aside for at least half an hour.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Place the pumpkin or squash skin side down on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Place on middle rack of the oven and bake until fork tender, about an hour. Remove from oven and let cool until you can peel the skin from the squash. Then cut it into chunks and mash together with the amaretti, nutmeg or cinnamon and the beaten egg if the mixture is too crumbly. Set aside.

Roll out the pasta dough with your machine, eventually to the thinnest setting. Lay one sheet on your work table and at regular intervals, place tablespoonfuls of the filling in a line down the centre of the sheet of dough. Cover with another sheet of the same length. Carefully press the dough together around the filling, removing any air bubbles. Then cut away the excess dough, leaving a thin border around the filling, using a sharp knife or fluted pastry wheel.

Boil a large pot of salted water. Gently place the tortelli in the water, in batches if necessary, to prevent crowding. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, and remove from the water with a slotted spoon to serving bowls. Top with the sauce. To make the sauce, simply melt the butter over medium heat in a frypan and add the sage leaves, cooking until the leaves just start to crisp. Spoon some sauce over each dish of tortelli and top with the grated cheese.

Basic Egg Pasta Dough
I always make my pasta dough in a food processor now because it is easier, neater and produces an even mix of the ingredients in just a few seconds.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp vegetable or olive oil
1-5 tsp water, if needed
Additional flour, if needed

Combine flour, eggs, salt and oil in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until well-blended and the dough starts to hold together in small, sticky crumbs that can easily be pressed together. This should only take about 5 to 10 seconds. If the dough is too dry and not sticking when you press some between your finger and thumb, sprinkle in the water, one teaspoon at a time, process after each addition of water until you get the right consistency.

Dump dough onto a work surface and work together, kneading for a few seconds until you get a smooth ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap or set on a plate and cover with an inverted bowl and let rest for minimum 30 minute before working with it. You can keep it in the fridge for up to four hours but return it to room temperature before you start working with it.


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