Cooking with Pumpkins

Submitted by HedonisticHiking on 16 Oct 2023

Autumn is the season when we start to see pumpkins appearing in Italy's shops and markets.  In the UK and US they play an important part in our celebrations for both Halloween and Thanksgiving.  In Italy, however, it is the pumpkins themselves that are celebrated at this time of year. They are loved for being a fabulously versatile ingredient which can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes.  The town of Mantua in Lombardy has perhaps the most famous connection with this super squash, and farmers in the region host a pumpkin festival every year in the autumn months. 


The pumpkin arrived in Italy following the discovery of the Americas, but it was the dynastic Gonzaga family in Mantua who put it centre stage as their chefs began to experiment with and develop different recipes.  There are many varieties grown today, but the pumpkin particularly associated with Mantua is known as the Cappello del Prete. It's unusual tiered shape reflects the appearance of priests hats, and it has a greyish-green skin but a firm, orange, delicately sweet pulp.

Pumpkin flesh can be cooked in myriad ways: fried, roasted, steamed or grilled and perhaps the most famous recipe is Mantua's Tortelli di Zucca. These fresh egg pasta parcels are filled with mashed pumpkin, crumbled amaretti biscuits, mostarda and grated cheese. They are delicious served with a simple butter and sage sauce. As is often the case in the Italian kitchen, no part of the pumpkin is wasted. The flowers can be fried in batter and the seeds roasted and salted as tasty nibbles with an aperitif.


Each year from September to December, a consortium of Mantuan farmers take part in the initiative to promote pumpkins.  Visitors to the farms can taste pumpkin prepared in many different ways, participate in cooking classes or vegetable carving lessons and also buy directly from the growers. If you ever happen to be in the Lombardy area at this time of year, you too could take part.  You can find out more here about the events taking place in 2023.