I find myself at the dusty, neglected end of the alphabet among the letters less frequently used.
There is nothing dusty about zucca invernale, though. I recently visited an old friend who lives in San Remo, in Italy. She took me to the local Saturday market, where we were accosted by a cheery (and very handsome) young stall holder, with a fag clamped in the corner of his mouth: the new season Scillian oranges had just arrived and would we like to try some? They were delicious, and my friend bought some. I looked at the other produce while they exchanged easy banter in Italian – the small narrow artichokes with the long stems, the Abbots pears – when my eye was caught by what looked like a street entertainer’s balloon, blown when the street entertainer was rather pissed. It was sturdy and very, very long, with smooth golden skin. I think I know my veg, but this was new to me. “What’s that?” I asked pointing. “Ah, zucca invernale”, came the reply and he obligingly chopped off the end with his enormous knife so I could see the inside. It was bright orange with large seeds, and I knew at once it was of the tribe of Pumpkin. This one was about as long as a trombone, and he asked how much we wanted. My friend told him, and he cut her a section. She paid, and we went off to finish our market business
When we got home, she prepared it and said that it made a nice pumpkin risotto. We spent the rest of the day in her kitchen, catching up with each other’s lives, and cooking. By dinner time, we had consumed rather a lot of wine and completely forgot to make the risotto di zucca; but it mattered not. She saved me the seeds, which I dried on a bit of kitchen roll, and I will plant them this summer.
When I got home, I looked up invernale and found that it means ‘of the winter’. And now that I think about it, zuccini is what the Italians call courgettes, meaning ‘little zucca’. It all starts to make sense! I think ‘long winter pumpkin’ would be a fair translation.
As an allotmenteer, I love the different sizes and shapes of pumpkins. This year I grew Crown Prince. (See below: they are ripening in my sun porch, so handsome. I am puffed up with pride.)
So why won’t I be gowing the Princes, or their gnarlier cousins, again this summer? I could be seduced by their names alone: Turks Cap, Lakota, Black Futsu, Rouge Vif d’Etampes, Kabocha – and their flavours are said to have both depth and sweetness. The answer is: because they are bloody difficult to cut. As a cook, I value my fingers. The combination of round, ribbed shape, cumbersome weight and thick, tough carapace can be lethal when trying to cut into manageable pieces.
Which is why I’m going to try the zucca invernale: you just cut off a section: easy. And, it will remind me of my friend in Italy.
I will let you know how I get on, when the Wheel of the Year has tilted.
Pumpkin/squash recipes to follow.