A savory winter squash pie
September 20, 2020
It is 6:00 AM and the rain has stopped. Clouds the color of oysters bring relief after weeks of sun. Too wet and too dark, the village refuses to stir.
I look over my garden wall at Bruna’s olive grove and notice that the silver leafed trees have been pruned to half their size. A carpet of weeds covers the slope. Despite the shadows, dozens of yellow flowers gleam through the grass.
Butternut squash blooms are the shape of starfish. I ask Bruna later what she intends to do with her bounty and she replies, “Ravioli and pies. What else?” At eighty-three, she can still wield a knife.
Back in Zurich, I shy away from the gourd on the supermarket shelf. The thought of gaining entry with a blade, extracting strings and seeds, chopping, roasting, draining, then finally mashing it reminds me of the twelve stations of the cross. I reach for a can of Libby’s pumpkin purée instead…
In the fall, the shops in Liguria that sell focacce and vegetable pies make a delicious version with “zucca”, meaning pumpkin. The Italians talk about pumpkins, but seldom cook the huge ones, as their consistency can be too watery and stringy. They use myriad variations of winter squash instead.
The recipe that I give you today is an experiment. I would like to know if a can of the American “pumpkin” purée will work as well as a fresh squash. Some European readers may be horrified by this idea, but Libby’s, the iconic brand used at Thanksgiving, contains nothing but their specially bred Dickinson squash. Surfing the Internet, I find countless articles discussing the benefits and pitfalls of using either fresh or canned. Taste is personal. The general consensus does lean towards the latter, at least for the sweet American dessert, because it guarantees a compact, smooth consistency, with no danger of moisture seeping into the crust. In a few weeks, I will post a version made from scratch and compare the results.
The Ligurian torta di zucca always contains egg and parmesan, and sometimes a little prescinsêua or ricotta. To make a substitute for the prescinsêua, you can mix equal amounts of Greek yogurt and ricotta. Use whatever you have. A little fresh, mild sheep cheese also works well. I have never tried the versions with porcini and am curious how it will taste. The few leaves of fresh marjoram slipped into the filling add a warm, slightly sharp note. Be aware that too much will taste bitter. If you cannot find any, I would suggest thyme leaves instead of oregano. The original olive oil crust, as thin as parchment, is light and healthy. Anna del Conte, the renowned food writer from the UK, uses phyllo dough as a shortcut and that is good enough for me.
La Torta di Zucca
Conclusion: We liked this, and it was relatively easy to put together. The squash did not leak into the crust. I am not 100 per cent sure that I am sold on the taste of the porcini. When I make it from scratch, I will leave it out.