Life is good when you are a foodie.
Life is good, on a cold end of November morning, after waking up early taking a long exercise walk, and now sitting down at my desk with a steaming hot cup of chai tea. I am about to start doing one of the things I love the most, along with baking, cooking, reading: blogging! Today’s topic, I chose to be pumpkins, so that with this marvelous, and orange gift from nature we can wrap up the posts on Fall and enter, starting with the next one into Winter. This morning, after my walk, I went to one of my favorite shops, one of those with all kinds of nifty things for crazy homemakers like I am. I spent a good half hour in the aisle dedicated to Christmas, and since I am in love with everything that has to do with Christmas, I stood there pretty much like Alice in wonderland admiring all the lovely things that, I realized right there, I could no longer live without: Santa Claus mugs, candles of all colors, Christmas lights, Cookie jars, advent wreath decoration and all kinds of lovely trinkets.
From there I moved to the baking aisle, where I found a few items I had been looking for a while: a small, round and tall baking pan, a few sugar decorations, and Christmas theme cookie cutters. Looking at these new things, put me in a great baking mood and I started fantasizing about all the things to bake. The first thing that came to mind was Chocolate Pumpkin cake! Pumpkin is just the icon of Fall and also Winter here in Tuscany. We grow big long round pumpkins in our garden, it is a delight to watch them unfold during the whole summer and admire its beautiful big yellow flowers with is silk like petals. Pumpkin, just like all orange vegetables is a very healthy food, rich in vitamin A among the many other proprieties. It is a very versatile food, which can be enjoyed savory and sweet. In this case we will start with a sweet version: chocolate pumpkin cake!
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake
300 gr of Pumpkin pulp
100 gr brown Sugar
1 pinch of Salt
1/2 Organic Lemon
100 gr Dark Chocolate 70%
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
100 gr Whole Spelt Flour
1 tsp baking powder
Turn on the oven at 350 degrees F. Butter the pan. Cut up the chocolate in bits not too small.
Grate the pumpkin.
Beat the eggs with the sugar, and the salt. Mix the batter with an electric beater until it turns lighter in color. Add the lemon zest and the lemon juice.
Add the cinnamon, flour, baking powder and the chocolate chips. Mix a few times, but do not over stir. Bake until the top looks brown and the inseted tooth-pick comes out dry.
This is a really delicious recipe, perfect on a cold winter afternoon to savor with some hot tea or coffee.
Another way to use pumpkin in the kitchen is to prepare a pot-licking good risotto. This is a traditional recipe in Tuscany. I still remember when my grandmother woud make it, that unforgettable flavor and that charcteristic smell that filled the whole kitchen while she was cooking it.
Risotto alla Zucca (Squash risotto)
I warmly recommend to soak the rice overnight, in this way the rice will be more digestable and all its’ nutrients will be easily absorbed)
¾ cup of olive oil
3 cups short grain organic brown rice
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic
¾ cup of white wine
1 medium butternut squash (or pumpkin)
2 vegetable stocks (I recommend the swiss brand Rupunzel, that you can find at most health food stores) or homemade stock (see recipe below)
gorgonzola cheese (optional)
Soak the rice overnight. Cut the squash in cubes. In a sauce pan boil 10 cups of water and add the vegetable stock, and let simmer. If are using homemade broth or stock for this recipe, heat it up and bring it to a gentle boil.
Cut the onions up along with the garlic, move them to a dutch oven and let sautee on medium-low flame in the olive oil until the onions look wilted. Stir and turn the heat to medium high for 3 minutes, when onions and garlic are sizzling add ¾ of a cup of white wine and the squash then turn the heat back down to medium. When the onion looks translucent and the wine has mostly evaporated add the rice. Stir everything together and add the broth to generously cover the rice, put the lead on the pot and let cook for 10 minutes on medium-low heat. After 10 minutes check the risotto regularly to make sure to add more broth every time the rice has absorbed the previous quantity. Every time add enough to cover the rice and stir. Cook for 45 minutes. Towards the end check the rice yourself, you are the best judge for its readiness since most likely you will be eating it. The rice should be soft but keep some body in the middle.
While the rice cooks, if you wish, roast the walnuts for 5 minutes at 350 in the oven.
Stir the rice and the squash which at this point will certainly be cooked soft and tender and will embrace the rice in a silky blanket of orange pulp. At this point if it is your choice incorporate the parsley.
Serve the risotto and top with lightly roasted walnuts and crumbled gorgonzola cheese. Oh so yummy!! Risotto is pumpking is for sure and evergreen just like the silken pumpkin soup with strips of smocked speck o top along with some freshly squeezed olive oil, salt and pepper.
Zuppa di Zucca (Pumpkin soup)
This is the smell of autumn in the kitchen! Before I went to the U.S. and fell in love with the smell of cooked apples with cinnamon, the smell, shape, and color of the pumpkin was for me the symbol of the end of Summer. By mid-October the pumpkins in my father’s patch had absorbed all those juicy summer sun rays and they were now ready to give all of their flavor into my mother’s cooking. Enjoy the velvety texture that will melt in your mouth!
1 onion (meium to big size)
2 clove of garlic
1 stock or bouillion
3 cups of cut up pumpkin
2 medium size potatoes
Cut the onions up along with the garlic, move them to a dutch oven and let sautee on medium-low flame in the olive oil until the onions look wilted. Stir and turn the heat to medium high for 3 minutes, when onions and garlic are sizzling add ¾ of a cup of white wine and the pumpkin, then turn the heat back down to medium. When the onion looks translucent and the wine has mostly evaporated add the stock, and slowly after the cut up potatoes. Fill the pan with water, just enough to cover the vegetables, let it simmer up to one hour. After all the ingredients are well cooked and flavorful blend them into a smooth velvety texture. In a skillet cook the speck till it’s crispy and then add to the soup. Sprinkle it all with some freshly squeezed olive oil, and serve with some grilled home made bread. Nice and crunchy. Buon Appetito!