IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN!
Cooking remains very seasonal in Italy, or at least here in Umbria. Despite larger and larger refrigerators in the average Italian home, despite supermercatos filled with fruits and vegetables every day of the week, many Italians still prefer to do their shopping at weekly outdoor markets or take what's fresh from their own garden. Yes, we have lettuce and tomatoes all year round, carrots, onions, zucchini, but every casalinga (housewife) knows that these things are best eaten in their proper season.
In today's modern world I wouldn't dare guess how many people still put up their own fruits and vegetables, but it's a common practice in this area. Years ago when my kids were small and I was a stay-at-home mom I used to can tomatoes in the summer, make jam from fresh strawberries, etc. Now canning tomatoes seems like way too much trouble, but I do freeze green beans since they aren't easily found (even canned) during the winter.
In the fall I look forward to the arrival of pumpkins....not to carve for Halloween decoration, but to roast and freeze for cooking with throughout the winter. Now I will confess that before I lived in Italy my use of pumpkin was limited to canned pumpkin once a year for Thanksgiving, and the only time I ever bought a whole pumpkin was to carve it into a jack o'lantern!
It wasn't that I didn't know that the pumpkin puree in the can came from the inside of a pumpkin, but I just didn't have the awareness....I just never realized how much better fresh pumpkin was...or what I could do with it besides make the traditional pie. I'm sure there are many ways to use fresh pumpkin, but now I have two dishes that are staples for my cold weather cooking: pumpkin soup and a delicious pumpkin/sausage quiche.
Last week I bought 2 nice sized pumpkins from one of the local farmers. These pumpkins are a different variety than those used for carving. The pumpkin is much thicker and meatier, and carving them can present a problem. The first cut is the most difficult, but once I have the pumpkin cut in half I can scoop out the seeds the carve each half into more manageable pieces. I then place the pumpkin pieces into an oiled pan and roast them in the oven. Not only does this make the pumpkin easier to remove from the skin, it also enhances the flavor, so it's a step well worth the time.
If you've never tried using fresh pumpkin, now might be the perfect time to visit your local farmer's market and buy one to cook with along with one for carving. Remember...they ARE different!