The problem with italian food abroad is that it’s almost always wrong. I guess it’s pretty much the same for every other cuisine, but still, it’s quite a pity. Above all, pasta is usually very wrong: the idea non-italians have of it is so limited and incorrect. I’m not talking only of the well-known problem with Fettuccine Alfredo or the many ways Carbonara is ruined worldwide. The bigger problem for me is that the abroad menus are so limited compared to the vast regional diversity of pasta recipes that exist across Italy. One of the limits that I find more troubling is the complete lack of one entire category of pasta recipes, namely the so called “minestra” which is pasta cooked in a soup, as opposed to the other way you would normally cook your pasta: by itself in water before you add the sauce. Usually very wintery dishes, minestre (plural for minestra) combine pasta with what you might find strange pairings. Things like potatoes, peas, beans, lentils, cauliflower, and yes, you read the title, pumpkin. Minestre can be both very soupy or quite dense, and this can differ a lot even from neighborhood to neighborhood in the same small town. I usually stay on the dense side, as is also the case with this one.
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 350 grof pumpkin (any pumpkin will work)
- 2 small floury potatoes
- 1 stalk of celery
- half a onion
- parmigiano to taste
- gorgonzola cheese to taste
- 300 grof pasta* (see note)
All the most common edible pumpkins will work for the recipe, but my favourite is a butternut squash. Also, Gorgonzola in the end gives the recipe a nice extra touch of fancy flavour, but the recipe works perfectly without.
*about the pasta shape for this recipe: my favourite is casarecce (as in picture), but it’s perfect to use any half-short holed shape, like tubetti, tufoli, ditali or maybe the very good mafaldine (cut in small pieces), or one of my all time favourite pasta mista (mixed pasta, a mix of leftovers). Please don’t make wierd pairings like spaghetti or linguine.
- Finely dice the onion and celery, and sauté them with the olive oil for 5-8 minutes on medium heat.
- Meanwhile, peel the squash, remove seeds, and chop it into small cubes, about 1 cm. Same thing for the potatoes. Add everything to the pot and stir often so it doesn’t burn. Keep sautéing everything for 5 minutes.
- Add some boiling water, just enough to cover the pumpkin, and keep it on medium/high for 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally, adding some more boiling water if it evaporates fast. Also add salt and pepper.
- After about 20 minutes the pumpkin should start to be nice and tender; use a smasher, or any other tool (a fork should also work). and start smashing the pumpkin and potatoes in a coarse puree. You can of course use an immersion blender, but I prefer when in the final dish there are still some small pieces of soft pumpkin here and there.
- Now add the pasta, and here comes the tricky part: add enough water to cook your pasta in. You have to consider that some of the water is going to evaporate, and some is going into the pasta (cooking pasta is basically re-hydraitation), so you have to add enough water to cover all the pasta, but not too much, as this will make the end result too soupy. The best thing, before you’ve gained more experience, is to start with as little water as is needed to cover the pasta, and then keep adding some more if things get too dry. Just keep stirring often and check that you have enough liquid. During this all process, you’ll also have to adjust salt.
- When after about 10 minutes the pasta is cooked (and hopefully the pumpkin is nice and creamy and not too liquid), remove from the stove and add parmigiano and, if you fancy it, gorgonzola, and keep stirring until all the cheese has melted.
- Serve it with some extra parmigano and finely chopped parsley, or my favorite: rosemary.