Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

The Italian take on pumpkins

Most varieties may not be native to Italy, having been introduced from the New World by the voyages of Columbus, but Italians have taken to the pumpkin family like a ship to water. Initially, pumpkins were seen as a cheap, tasteless vegetable reserved only for animals, peasants and hollowing out to make flasks and containers. But when Columbus’ expedition brought back a host of new varieties, including the pepo, maximo and moschata gourds, the ever inquisitive Italian taste-buds were piqued and new varieties were quickly cultivated, winning over a whole new culinary audience.

In the royal courts, chefs rushed to create recipes involving these bountiful new vegetables, with pumpkin soup kitchens soon becoming an everyday sight, especially in the residences of the Dukes of Ferrara. Perhaps the most exciting creations of all were Cappellacci di Zucca, fat ravioli ‘hats’ stuffed full of sweet pumpkin and tortello Mantua, the smaller everyday equivalent, which became popular at banquets, especially at Christmas.