I clearly remember the first time I have seen someone cooking pumpkin, it was in 1979. I was with my family visiting friends during a summer holiday on the magnificent Lipari island, off the coast of Sicily. A teenager girl, only a little older than myself, was frying those brilliant orange slices in olive oil. We ate no pumpkin in Umbria then, but Sicilians use the sweet “delica” pumpkin in all sort of fabulous dishes, including candy and preserves. I did not get to try those beauties, but I guess she was making “zucca in agrodolce” (sweet and sour pumpkin) whereby the slices would have been finished in a sauce of vinegar, sugar, mint and garlic to serve – later in the day – as a side dish.
In contrast, I don’t remember when “zucca” arrived in Umbria. In our small rural region people used to be opposed to novelty, but it must have happened around the mid ’80s. Now we have pumpkin by the truckloads during the whole winter. We also have a clumsy version of Halloween when the kids don’t know what to do except dressing up and terrorize the bewildered village elders who have no idea what’s this new Carnival about. Only a few of them know you are supposed to give them candy when they turn up screaming at your door.
Of course we all think that pumpkin is for eating, not for those quaint porch lanterns. We are Italian after all, we have a fixation with food.
- 1 kg (2 lb) orange pumpkin or squash, cleaned and cut into cubes
- 1 large onion sliced
- 1/2 kg (1 lb) fresh pork sausage
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 120 gr (4 oz) grated Parmesan
- 250 gr (8 oz) fresh ricotta
- 300 gr (11 oz) young cow’s milk cheese like caciotta or provola, thinly sliced
- 500 gr ( 1 lb) fresh lasagna sheets
First of all organize your worktop so to have ample space to work. Please read my notes about making proper lasagna.
- Stew pumpkin and onion in 2 tablespoon olive oil until soft and falling apart. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir and transfer into the bowl of a food processor together with the ricotta. Process until thick and creamy.
- Remove casing from sausages and saute in a heavy pan over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up large pieces with a fork, about 10 minutes. Add fennel seeds, stir for one minute, then deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine. Switch off and set aside.
Umbrian fresh sausages are liberally seasoned with black pepper and garlic. If you can’t find a similar sausage, add 2 cloves of finely minced garlic and a good sprinkle of black pepper just before deglazing with wine.
- Preheat the oven at 200 °C (400 °F). Butter generously a 40 x 30 cm (16 x 12 inch) roasting pan.
- To blanch the pasta sheets, place a shallow pan, half full with water on the heat and bring to the boil. Using a slotted spoon, deep one or two lasagna sheets at the time in the boiling water until just soft, approx 30 sec, strain and place in one single layer in the buttered tin.
- Once the bottom of the tin is covered by lasagna sheets, pour 1/4 of the pumpkin/ricotta mixture over the pasta sheets and spread it in a thin layer. Top with 1/3 of the sliced cheese, 1/3 of the cooked sausage and 2 tablespoon of grated Parmesan. Repeat two more times using all the sausage and sliced cheese and 2/4 of the pumpkin mixture reserving 1/4 for the top layer.
- Top with one last layer of pasta sheets, cover thinly with the rest of the pumpkin mixture, sprinkle with 2-3 additional tablespoon of Parmesan and bake for 25 min or until bubbly and golden around the sides.
Serve 6-8 as a main
For a vegetarian version substitute sausage with smoked cheese, gorgonzola or saute porcini mushrooms.
PS. If you want to visit and carve one of those beautiful lanterns for me I will make you lunch.