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Torta di Zucca

Today is the Celebration of the Mother of Christ and a National Holiday and so I’m sharing with you a traditional Italian Pie that I picked up how to do at a Pumpkin Festival to celebrate the day. Two Sundays ago was a day commemorating pumpkins at a Pumpkin Fair in a country village that effectively inspired me to try this dish. The village folk of Murta have been celebrating pumpkin in an annual feast for 30 years now so needless to say they are mad about pumpkin. Nothing could stop me going, not the cold nor the climb up the hill to get there as I too love the season of pumpkin with all its splendour from the colours to the shapes to the multitude of sweet and savoury pumpkin dishes. It must have been a bountiful harvest – I was left awe-struck by the abundance I discovered.

My favourite is the Butternut but unbeknownst to me when I moved here, they are quite scarce in Italy. In South Africa though, butternuts can be bought by the sacks and it was always my first love! To say I was disappointed would be an understatement when I got here and realised that they’re not popular at all.

Writing about butternut I’m just now recalling an evening when Enrico and I visited a farmers market in the country. This particular market focuses mainly on oils, preserves, cheese and meats (everything I adore) but the only thing that caught my undivided attention was a butternut which was part of the decor at a stand for cured meats. I had not seen a butternut for months so I begged Enrico to ask the lady if she would sell it to us and she had a big laugh. I remember her saying that of all the things in the market we could buy, I wanted the only perishable that wasn’t for sale. After a minor interrogation (one I was happy to be subjected to) she finally agreed that I could buy it. It didn’t come cheap like I am accustomed to in SA, but it was satisfyingly worth it.

At the Pumpkin Festival of Murta however, there was little time to keep an eye out for the squash that I love. There was just too much to see and more especially to eat! Murta is perched on a hilltop surrounded by mountainous terrain and lots of green which at this time of year turns to warm hues of amber and gold that instantly took my breath away. Togged in my warmest clothes and feeling confident that the weather will not hinder my “culinary curiosity” I arrived at the top and I’m pretty sure everyone there were walking amidst low-lying clouds that were floating about. With the smell of olive wood burning and various pumpkin dishes cooking at nearly every stand, I had the feeling I might have arrived in paradise.

As a I entered I saw two women who were turning out these pumpkin pies by the dozens and I instantly knew they must be sensational if they were selling out so fast. After watching their skill in earnest, I decided then and there I’m going to try to recreate this dish my own way.  Moving on  I saw a crowd gathering at a barn like covered area and went to look and found stands selling pumpkin liqueur. Next to an actual distilling machine lay a big pumpkin that was hollowed out with this heavily potent liqueur inside which I could only manage a sip of. If there’s any advice I can give to tourists planning a vacation to Italy it’s this, home made liqueurs sold at fairs are not for the faint hearted.

Moving on to the next stands I discovered pumpkin biscuits, pumpkin cakes and pumpkin fritters. Walked along a little more I came across the “museum” of pumpkins. Giant pumpkins of  300 kilos lay around on the ground waiting to be photographed by the many people passing by in disbelief!

A fall pumpkin bouquet caught my attention and then the aroma of pasta! Walking down a narrow path I discovered an open restaurant and dishes of pumpkin ravioli – pumpkin filled pasta. I couldn’t help but recognise the unmistakable smell of smoke mixed with meat fat wafting through the air. I followed the scent to find a high metal bar standing over a wood fire with huge pieces of meat pegged to it. Standing close by to take warmth from the comfort of the fire, I watched as this obviously skilled man took the cuts of meat down and began slicing them up. I was later told that they had been grilling for seven hours and were ready to be made into a meat ragù, as luck would have it I arrived just in time to sample a piece.

Finally just before the rain came, I had chestnuts “roasted on an open fire” cracking open on a giant pan. I think they must have roasted about five hundred kilos of chestnuts just in a day. I was about to leave when a kind old man walked up to me and handed me probably the biggest chestnut I’d ever seen. At this point Jack Frost was certainly nipping at my nose and I knew it was time to head back. Waiting for a bus to arrive to take us down the hill we took shelter in the warmth of the local church. Absorbing all the artwork and historical artifacts decorated within this magnificent cathedral, the time went by quickly enough and before I knew it we were on the bus travelling further away from a piece of heaven.

 

Ingredients
  • 2oog ready rolled pie pastry (pasta briseè/patè brisè)
  • 1 small pumpkin/ 250g pumpkin flesh
  • 200g ricotta
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 25ml fresh cream
  • 1 1/2 tbs cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • egg wash
Preparation
  1. If using a whole pumpkin place the pumpkin in the oven for 45 mins at 180° until soft.
  2. Cut the soft pumpkin in half and scoop out the flesh, discarding the seeds and skin.
  3. If using only the flesh and not whole pumpkin, bake in the oven for thirty minutes with a tsp of olive oil ensuring that it is covered with tin foil or parchment paper.
  4. Grease a 22cm pie dish and preheat oven to 160°C gas fan / 180°C electric fan / 200°C conventional.
  5. Mash the soft flesh of the pumpkin until fairly smooth.
  6. Add ricotta, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and sugar to a large mixing bowl and combine.
  7. Add mashed pumpkin to ricotta mixture and mix to combine.
  8. Remove ready rolled pie pastry from the refridgerator and place it inside your greased pie dish letting it overhang down the sides.
  9. Place your pie filling inside the pastry and smooth out with a spatula.
  10. Bring the overhanging pastry edge over the pie as you slowly roate the pie dish to create a simple and easy finish.
  11. Drizzle the pie with olive oil followed by fresh cream.
  12. Bake for 30 minutes.
  13. Serve hot or at room temperature.
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