If you ever wondered whether Venetians love squash dishes, here’s the confirmation. We love creamy soul food made from la zuca ! Zuca is Venetian for squash while in Italian it’s called la zucca. Zuche are also harvested in summer, I remember spotting the first one at the Rialto Market on a rainy day in late July.
There are currently more than 900 Cucurbita species and some edible varieties were cultivated in ancient times by the Romans and Egyptians and in the Levantine countries. Venetians mostly eat zucca marina di Chioggia deriving from zucca maxima, a species originating in the Levant. There’s even a Festa della Zucca taking place in Salzano every year in October.
Squash dishes were always eaten in the Lagoon and estuary and still come in two variants. As piatti di cucina povera they were eaten everywhere, simple dishes seasoned with garden herbs. On the other hand, the Venetian spezieri (spice masters) prepared wonderfully warming spice mixtures, perfect to season winter vegetables like the zucche. These spice mixtures come in flamboyant shades of yellow, red, brown and orange.
This summer, we experimented with a special squash plant in the garden and harvested a wonderful linden green squash :-) We used it to make soup and seasoned with bouquet garni. It tasted vaguely like melon and we garnished with cream and homemade pesto made from olives, tomatoes and capers.
From mid-September through November, the yellow varieties of squash prevail in Venice. They are also used as restaurant decorations !!
For example, now in Venice you can taste lasagna alla zucca but there are many variants of squash soups too, often seasoned in a sweet-sour manner (saór). We love one-pot dishes and slices of squash fried in eggs and grated parmesan.
One of our favorite family recipes is the spicy healthy velvet soup. It includes our autumn spice mixture and we decorate it with dried cornflowers and cinnamon-flavored cream. Here’s the recipe:
Crema di zucca con panna alla cannella e fiordaliso
For two plates of squash soup, cut a finger-thick slice of yellow squash (butternut is similar to ours) into tiny cubes and cook them in little water together with parsley and lovage. When the squash is soft, take out the herbs and drain most of the water (keep the rest of this cooking water to dilute the soup later !). Add 2 tablespoons canned tomatoes and work the squash cubes into a puree. Add a bit of the cooking water until the soup tastes fine for you.
Now add the spice mixture, made from white sea salt, black pepper, a hint of cinnamon, two tablespoons of sweet paprika powder, turmeric and yellow mustard powder each.
Bring the soup to the boil for a moment before you garnish it, the spices need to be heated in order to release their wonderful properties. We love garnishing with sweet cream flavored with a hint of cinnamon and a teaspoonful dried cornflowers. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt and enjoy this family recipe. It works wonders in case you’ve caught cold !!