If you ever wondered whether Venetians love squashes in autumn, here’s the proof! And in particular, we love crema di zucca – the creamy soul food soup made from zuca ! Zuca or suca is Venetian for squash, while in Italian it’s called zucca. Zuche are also harvested in summer, and the first of the summer variants arrive at the Rialto Market in late July.
In Venice, we get to taste four different squash varieties, one for each month between August and November. They grow around Treviso and also in the southern Veneto around Rovigo (Polesine). Now in October, it’s the medium variant la Delica. Its pulp is orange. November, it’s mostly suca baruca from Chioggia, whose pulp is yellow and which will be around at the markets in Venice until early February of the following year (some vendors at the market also sell squashes just before Carnival, as there are a number of Carnival dishes using them).
There are more than 900 squash (cucurbita) variants, and the edible ones first were cultivated in the Mediterranean by the Romans and Egyptians. Venetian merchants most probably brought them back from the Levant from the 8th century. Venice has a long tradition – and experience! – in using zucca in the kitchen!
Venetians mostly eat zucca marina di Chioggia deriving from zucca maxima, a species from the Levant (Damascus!). There’s even a Festa della Zucca taking place in Salzano every year in October.
As they were considered cucina povera, squashes were widely available in Venice since times immemorial, baked or grilled and seasoned with autumn herbs. The Venetian spezeri (spice masters) of the past prepared wonderfully warming spice mixtures to flavor grilled squashes. These spice mixtures accentuate the flamboyant shades of yellow, red, brown and orange of the squashes, and are THE secret but essential ingredient of healthy and nourishing soul food (we’ll be sharing a recipe for you to download below!)
This summer, we experimented with a special squash plant in the garden and harvested a wonderful linden green squash :-) We used it to make una crema – creamy soup and seasoned it with bouquet garni, summer style. It tasted vaguely of melon, and to bring out its taste, we added sour cream and our home-made summer pesto made from olives, tomatoes and capers.
From mid-September through November, you will find the yellow varieties of squashes at the markets in Venice. Their skins are emerald green but harder to cut. Most come from Chioggia – zucca marina di Chioggia also called suca baruca. You can see so many of them now in Venice, used to decorate restaurants in October and November.
Did you know that in Venice, we also make lasagna alla zucca? And of course, there are le creme I mentioned above, the creamy soups, which we season with a home-made sweet-sour (agreste flavor as it’s called in historical Venetian cuisine). This flavor also goes into the sweet-sour manner saór.
Especially in autumn, home-cooked food in Venice is often one-pot dishes, or zucca fritta vovi e cacio, thinly sliced pieces of squash covered with a mixture of eggs and grated parmesan, and fried in olive oil in a pan. Call it healthy snacks or fast food, old Venetian style. These are just a few of the recipes we are preparing for you in our upcoming culinary class – AUTUNNO A VENEZIA – HARVEST TIME RECIPES FROM VENICE.
One of our favorite family recipes is the spicy – and healthy !! – velvet squash soup. In Venice, there are at least 12 spice mixtures, some of which are based on historical recipes, used to flavor autumn soul food.
The soup whose recipe we’re sharing as download below, uses one of these spice mixtures. We decorate the squash soup with dried cornflowers and cinnamon-flavored cream.
If you don’t have cornflowers, you could also use saffron or dried calendula blossoms. These blossoms provide a soft note and balance out the spicy flavors in a surprising way. And most important, it’s a soup working wonders in case you’ve caught a cold!
Crema di zucca con panna alla cannella e fiordaliso is just one of the recipe collection from our upcoming online class – HARVEST TIME IN VENICE, available from 15 October 2019 in our Venetian online cooking school.10