I clearly remember the first time I have seen someone cooking a squash, 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 or squashes in Umbria then, but Sicilians traditionally use the sweet “delica” pumpkin in all sort of fabulous dishes, including candy and preserves.
I did not get to try the beautiful slices, 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 Italy we only have the term “zucca”, to indicate pumpkin and winter squashes, but you will hardly ever find a restaurant menu listing a squash dish even if they have used squash in the recipe. Italians generally translate “zucca” with “pumpkin”.
I don’t remember when “zucca” arrived in Umbria, but it must have happened around the mid ’80s. Now all markets feature plenty of pumpkins and squashes during the whole winter. We also have a clumsy version of Halloween during which kids don’t know how are they supposed to behave, except dress up like witches and wizards and terrorise the bewildered village elders. Only a few of them know you are supposed to give them candy when they turn up screaming at their door.
Halloween is quickly forgotten here in Italy, but the now beloved squashes will feature in restaurants menu and in people’s home for many months to come.
- 1 kg (2 lb) orange pumpkin or squash, cleaned and cut into cubes. In my experience, butternut squash works well in Italian recipes.
- 1 medium onion sliced
- 3-4 sage leaves
- 300 gr (10 1/2 oz) young cow’s milk cheese like mozzarella, caciotta, provola or a medium aged Asiago, thinly sliced.
- 1/2 kg (1 lb) fresh sweet pork sausage with fennel
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (omit if using fennel sausage)
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 120 gr (4 oz) grated Parmigiano
- 250 gr (8 oz) fresh ricotta
- 500 gr ( 1 lb) fresh lasagna sheets
First of all organise your workspace 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 sauté in a heavy pan over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up large pieces with a fork, about 10 minutes. Make some space at the bottom of the pan, add fennel seeds and one finely minced clove of garlic, stir for one minute, then deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine. Switch off and set aside.
- Slice the cheese of your choice
- 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 pan 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 sauté mushrooms.