Fall is just around the corner in all its culinary glory. I think that autumn is one of the best seasons to embrace your inner Italian and follow the Italian style of cooking with seasonal ingredients that pop with flavor. With cooler temperatures and rainy weather the hills of northern and central Italy are alive with porcini mushrooms and soon the scent of truffles and roasted chestnuts (castagne) will fill the air.
One of my favorite fall pairings is pumpkin, pici pasta and pecorino cheese. Italian pumpkins (zucca) tend to be smaller and meatier so when making this dish save the jack o’ lantern size variety for Halloween. Pici is a thick, chewy, hand rolled Tuscan pasta. Similar to a fat spaghetti there are several regional variations known as stringozzi or ciriole (Umbria), or bigoli (Venice). Pici is eaten with a variety of sauces including ragu’ (meat sauce) and boscaiola (woodsman) sauce made with porcini mushrooms. The following recipe is for a rich rustic sauce made with pumpkin, pancetta (bacon), onions and cream that goes well with the toothsome pici and screams Autumn.
Zucca di Sugo (Pumpkin Sauce)
- 1 small pumpkin (peeled with seeds removed) cut into pieces about 1 x 1 inch to make 2 cups
- 6 strips of bacon (chopped) or pancetta
- 1 small onion (chopped)
- 3 T unsalted butter
- 1 T extra virgin olive oil
- 1 glass of cream or half and half
- pinch of nutmeg
- 2 small leaves of fresh sage coarsely chopped
- grated aged pecorino toscano cheese
Saute the onion in the olive oil and butter in a large frying pan, add pumpkin pieces and slowly cook over medium-high heat until the pumpkin is golden on all sides. The pumpkin is done when it can be easily pierced with a knife. Fry the bacon and sage in a separate pan until bacon is slightly crisp, drain and combine bacon with pumpkin and onion mixture. Add a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook together for another 10-15 minutes so that flavors blend and pumpkin begins to cook down. Then add cream. At this point you can slightly puree sauce with a hand-held blender but do not over process. Return sauce to the pan. Drain and add prepared pici to pan reserving some of the hot pasta water to add to the sauce should it become too thick. Sprinkle with grated pecorino cheese.