I grew up without personally knowing any winter squash. After I moved to Milan, I tasted a few dishes like risotto con la zucca and tortelli di zucca. I then moved to the US and fell in love with winter squash.
Here is a photo from the Arcata farmers' market with dark green acorn squash in the background, next to colorful dumpling squash. I don't think acorn squash is available in Italy. The literal translation of the name would be zucca ghianda. Can any of my Italian readers confirm or refute my idea that this kind of squash has not reached our shore? Acorn squash can be easily halved when raw, something I no longer try to do with bigger squash, after a mishap involving a dislocated knife blade. Half an acorn squash is a perfect portion for one person, so a whole squash makes a great course in a dinner for two.
A while ago my dear friend Cloud made acorn squash stuffed with pears, hazelnuts and dried cranberries (nocciole e mirtilli di palude secchi). If you think the dish sounds interesting, I can assure you it was delicious. The experience got me thinking about using pears, but placing them in a different environment, like scalogno e timo (shallot and thyme). Toasted noci pecan (pecans) would provide the crunch to the ensemble. I am currently in love with pecans, so I put them everywhere I can.
The dish is quite simple, but requires a bit of time for the roasting of the zucca. The dish also needs a bit of thyme, which I get from my little herb garden, where I recently planted an additional specimen. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Cut the acorn squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a grapefruit spoon or a melon baller. Spray with olive oil a baking sheet and place on it the squash halves, cut side down. Bake for 45 minutes.
In the meantime, spray a small frying pan with olive oil and warm it up, then add 2 oz of shallot, finely chopped, and half a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves. Cook, covered, until the shallot is soft, about 15 minutes, making sure it does not become dry (in which case add a splash of vegetable broth to the pan). Cut the pera (pear) in small pieces. Leave it unpeeled, if possible. Add the pear pieces to the shallot and cook for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle some freshly-ground pepper and salt, to taste. Also, toast 2 tablespoons of pecans in a dry skillet or in the oven, then chop them with a knife and add them to the pear and shallot mixture. Use this to fill the two halves of the squash, then put them back in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Eat immediately and fall in love with squash over again.
Zucca in Italian is also used to indicate the human head. Una zucca vuota (an empty head) is not a good sign, and neither is non avere sale in zucca (to lack common sense). I wish zucca were used in more complimentary expressions, but, since I cannot do much to change the language, I can make amends by celebrating zucche in my cooking.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the zucca ripiena audio file [mp3].
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