Greetings from the aftermath of Sandy.
We on my street were very lucky compared to others in NYC and NJ who experienced flooding, fires and blackouts. The worst that happened in my area were a few fallen trees and the inconvenience of having so subway for a few days.
Since it has been impossible to leave the borough, I’ve been stationed at my apartment since Sunday, and this is the longest stretch of time I’ve had at home since arriving here. For me, that’s meant a lot of dissertation writing (I have no books handy and so can do no research) and a good deal of cooking and coffee-making. I find that those three things go together.
Luckily, we did get out and about over the weekend before the rain started, and traipsed about Manhattan.
In honor of Halloween, there were haunted buildings.
There was also a great deal of fall foliage.
Some very good chicken and rice.
And coffee in the park.
Then on Monday morning, the rest of Clinton Hill and I were at Mr. Melon, buying whatever we could carry. We got a pumpkin and decided to make dinner out of it.
Actually, I had been wanting to cook this pumpkin-centric dish since I returned from Italy. That trip really deserves a post unto itself – there was a great deal good food in Florence, and a reconnection with a friend I hadn’t seen in 17 years in Pisa.
Let me tell you about the pumpkin though. This recipe is something so simple and yet I have never encountered it beyond Italian soil. It’s called Parmigiana di Zucca – Pumpkin Parmesan.
It it sounds silly in English, like a knockoff of Eggplant Parmesan, but don’t be fooled. It has none of the mushiness of eggplant parmesan, a dish that I have never liked and never will. Pieces of pumpkin seem to hold up better in tomato and cheese sauce than eggplant, I guess. It’s a savory version of pumkpin that has a perfect texture.
The only problem is carving up the pumpkin, which is time consuming, but ’tis the season…
Happy Halloween to all.
Parmigiana di Zucca
*Note: the recipe I adapted (from [this website]), calls for Provola affumiciata, a soft smoked cheese. I used mozzarella because I was in a pinch. It worked fine but something closer to the smoked style called for above would have been more interesting. When I had it in Italy, there was no soft white cheese included, just the parmesan-style cheese. The recipe also calls for flouring the pumpkin pieces to pan fry them first. I skipped this, and the pieces were a bit softer than I wanted, but were still fine. You just need to brown the pieces slightly, not overcook them in the pan.
1 small pumpkin (see pic above)
750 g canned whole tomatoes
200 g Parmigiano Reggiano or other Grana-style cheese
200 g Smoked provola or other white melting cheese (e.g. mozzarella)
1 clove garlic
Oil for frying (e.g. canola or safflower)
Salt and red chili flakes to taste
Prepare the pumpkin by halving it, scooping out the interior stringy flesh and seeds completely, and peeling off the hard orange skin. Save the seeds if you wish and [ roast them ]. I find that cutting the flesh (with skin still on) into cantaloupe-style slices and then *carefully* edging the knife along the skin to peel worked relatively easily. When the pumpkin is peeled, slice the flesh into 1/4-inch thick pieces – the closest analogy I can come to for how you want these pieces to look is the thickness and width of [ fried green plantains ].
Preheat the oven to 350 F
Heat some olive oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic clove until fragrant. Remove the clove and then pour in the can of tomatoes, crushing the tomatoes until they form a consistent, chunky sauce. Stir, salt to taste, and then simmer for 25 minutes to slightly reduce the sauce.
Meanwhile, pan-fry the pumpkin pieces in another shallow pan: heat the frying oil until quite hot, and then fry the pieces in batches just until they are browned on the outside – you don’t want to overcook them at this stage. As they are done, transfer to a plate with a paper towel to absorb excess grease.
When the sauce has reduced remove it from the heat and let cool a few minutes. In a small baking dish about 2 inches deep, arrange half of the pumpkin pieces in a single layer. Then add sauce and grated parmesan cheese, followed by another layer of the same. On the top, shred or cube rounds of provola or mozzarella.
Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes, or until the cheese on top is melted but not browned and pumpkin is just tender.