Before moving to Italy my relationship with pumpkin involved canned products and roasted pumpkin seeds. I only added the item “whole pumpkin” to my grocery list on October 30th. I have nothing against the orange spheres it just felt like a lot of produce and a high risk of food spoilage (one of my main enemies in life). One of the joys of traveling is seeing different culture’s “street smart skills”. Living in Italy, one of my favorite “duh, that makes a lot more sense than what I am used to” moments is that of the pumpkin.
As stated before, a whole pumpkin is a lot of pumpkin and for those of us that don’t have little people to feed it is rare to need that much. So what do you do? Of course you can freeze but that requires advance planning and ample extra tuber ware…both of which I rarely possess. Enter Italy with a great solution, just cut the pumpkin up and sell it to lots of people. I can walk up to the produce vendor and just ask for a chunk of pumpkin. No questions, no eye rolls, just a completely normal process. They even have a variety of pumpkin chunks vacuum packed and waiting. It’s a dream come true (well a dream that I never knew I had until pumpkin season arrived)!
This new freedom from spoiled produce has caused me to go on a bit of a pumpkin craze. Scowering the internet for recipes, polling classmates for favorites, and perusing menus across town, I am obsessed. Below is a recent favorite adapted from Food and Wine. It is spicy, slightly sweet and incredibly flavorful. It fills the stomach without sitting like a brick. Plus it heats up nicely for lunch the next day. Oh pumpkin! Where have you been all my life!!
Casarece with Spicy Pumpkin
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small leek, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
2 pounds pumpkin—peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon finely chopped sage
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds cassarece, cavatelli or small shells
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic, leek and crushed red pepper and cook until softened about 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin and sage, season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Cover and cook over moderately low heat until the pumpkin is tender, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta to the pumpkin mixture, stir in 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and toss gently to combine. Add the 3/4 cup of parmesan, season with salt and pepper and stir gently; add a little more pasta water if necessary. Serve the pasta right away, passing more cheese at the table.