Artusi’s November: Pumpkin Pie
I’ve said many times how much I love autumn, particularly for the season’s food. It just feels natural to be a little more indulgent at this time of the year, allowing yourself plenty of comfort food or that extra slice of pie. Pumpkin has to be right up there as one of my favourite autumn vegetables. Just before leaving Italy a few weeks ago, we had pumpkins coming at us from all directions, most notably from my husband’s nonna’s garden.
To me, the idea of pumpkin pie is a purely North American tradition, and even more so a Thanksgiving holiday tradition, but I recently came across this curious recipe in Pellegrino Artusi’s 1891 bible of Italian cookery and could not resist trying it out.
Artusi calls it torta di zucca gialla, indicating that pie is to be made with squash, such as butternut or acorn squash. What makes this very different from North American style pumpkin pie is that it has no pastry base and the filling is made with almond meal (and therefore is gluten-free) giving it a very moist, pudding-like consistency.
While pumpkin is actually native to the Americas, they were brought to Italy via France and are still today mostly used in northern Italian cooking. One of my favourite dishes of all time is the pumpkin tortellini that you can find in Ferrara, on Emilia-Romagna’s border with the Veneto. They also make them in Mantua, with amaretti adding a sweet-savoury flavour to the pumpkin. But that’s another recipe for another day…
Torta di Zucca Gialla
Artusi’s Butternut Pumpkin Pie
- 1 kg pumpkin or squash (such as butternut)
- 100 gr of peeled almonds, ground finely
- 100 gr of raw sugar (brown sugar also goes nicely)
- 30 gr of butter
- 500 ml of milk
- 3 small eggs, beaten
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- pinch of salt
Remove the seeds and skin of the pumpkin and grate the pumpkin flesh into a large bowl. Drain the pumpkin to remove its liquid until it is reduced to just 300 grams. You can do this by wrapping it in a dish towel, as Artusi instructs, or over a colander, squeezing every now and then to help it along.
Cook the pumpkin in the milk for about 25-30 minutes or until it is soft. Artusi doesn’t say any more about the pumpkin mixture but after cooking, I drained the excess milk and just used the pumpkin.
Pulverise the almonds (if they are not already ground finely) and sugar together in a food processor or – Artui’s way – in a mortar and pestle. In a separate bowl, add this to the pumpkin, along with the butter, salt and cinnamon and combine. When the mixture has cooled enough, add the beaten eggs.
It is quite a runny mixture (this also depends on the pumpkin itself) but it will set when it cooks.
Pour the mixture into a greased and floured (you can use flour if you don’t mind the gluten or sprinkle with almond meal) cake tin so that the cake is no higher than an inch or two thick.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 45 minutes or until golden on top and set. When cool, dust generously with icing sugar.