Oh, Great Pumpkin, Where Are You?

Pumpkin in Sicilian Market. Photo, used by permission, by Karen M. Landes, author of "In Etna's Shadow," published by Gemelli Press.

Fall has arrived in the South—with low humidity, daytime highs in the low 80s and nighttime temps being in the 50s—and it has me thinking PUMPKIN!

Having been asked to teach a class featuring Pumpkin Gnocchi, I have been up to my eyeballs with the orange fruit for the past several weeks. Though this post isn’t going to feature a recipe for those gnocchi (I find it difficult to write a recipe where so much of it is about the feel of the dough as it is combined)—some things just have to be learned in person, standing next to Nonna in Italy!

For a Halloween treat, here is my La Torta di Zucca – Pumpkin Torte – recipe. A combination of ricotta cheese and pumpkin purée makes this a light version of a pumpkin pie, plus the orange liqueur and zest gives the short crust a citrus contrast to the spice in the pumpkin. I think Nonna would approve!

La Torta di Zucca e Ricotta

Pumpkin and Ricotta Torte

For the crust:

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

2 cups + 1 tablespoon flour

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or other orange-flavored liqueur (orange juice or water may be substituted)

Zest of 1 small- to medium-sized orange

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the ring of a non-stick 10-inch springform pan, closed and without bottom, onto a sheet of parchment paper and, using a paring knife, run the edge around the inside of the ring, scoring the parchment paper. Use a pair of scissors to cut along the scored line. [This circular piece of parchment will be used later in the baking process.] Assemble and close the springform pan. Butter and flour the inside of the pan.

In a large bowl, stir the flour and sugar together. Add the rest of the ingredients.  With a fork, slowly cut and work the butter and other ingredients into the dry ingredients. As the dough begins to come together, stop using the fork and, with your hands, form into a ball of dough, gently kneading the dough, in the bowl, until it has come together and all of the flour has been absorbed. Do not overwork the dough—this is not pasta.

Take a golf ball-sized piece of dough and, working in sections, press it into the bottom of the pan to form a 1/4-inch-thick crust, continuing to add more dough until the bottom of the pan is covered. Now continue adding the dough up the sides of the pan, stopping about a 1/4-inch from the top of the pan. The dough should be an even thickness throughout.

Place the pan into the refrigerator and let chill while preparing the filling.

For the filling:

1 1/4 cups whole milk ricotta cheese

1 1/2 cups sugar

6 large eggs, divided (yolks and whites separated; yolks into a small bowl, whites into a medium bowl)

1 cup canned pumpkin purée (NOT canned pumpkin pie mix)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground clove

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, add the ricotta cheese and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Stir until well combined. Add one egg yolk and stir until combined. Continue the process by adding 2 tablespoons of sugar and mixing well, then a yolk and mixing well before repeating until all of the sugar and yolks have incorporated into the ricotta. Add the pumpkin, the four spices and salt, stirring until well mixed. Set aside.

Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and, using an electric hand mixer, whip the whites to a firm, but not hard, peak.

In batches, slowly fold the whipped whites into the pumpkin mixture, being careful not to fold too vigorously and deflate the whites in the process.

Remove the pan from the refrigerator, pour the batter into the crust, place the pan into the oven, and bake for 25 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake an additional 25 minutes until the top has started to lightly brown.

Cover the top with the circular parchment paper, bake another 2 minutes (allowing the oven to come back up to temperature). Turn the oven off, leaving the torta inside to finish baking while the oven cools down. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR until the oven is completely cold, at least 4 to 5 hours. [I usually bake this torta the night before, turning the oven off and going to bed, allowing the oven to cool down, and the torta to finish cooking, undisturbed, overnight.]

Once cooled, gently remove the parchment paper from the top, being careful not to rip the top of the torta off.

For the topping:

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons sugar

In a small bowl, mix the cinnamon and sugar until well combined.

Using a spoon, sprinkle the cinnamon/sugar mixture over the surface of the torta until well covered.

Open the spring form pan, gently transfer the torta to a serving plate and slice into wedges. Makes 8 to 16 wedges.


AND here is another little Halloween treat. The opening of The Peanuts’ “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” by Charles M. Schultz, which starts off with a line that pretty much sums up my last two weeks of pumpkin dealings:


[Lucy scoops out the innards of the pumpkin Linus brought]
Linus: [groans] You didn’t tell me you were gonna kill it!


And Buon Appetito~



For more details on Mark’s book, Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family, please click HERE.

And don’t forget to see Mark’s iPhone/iPad/iPod app “Beyond the Pasta” on iTunes ~ DETAILS.

Interested in Karen M. Landes’ beautiful and informative book on Sicily, “In Etna’s Shadow” – click HERE for more details.