Italian Pumpkin, fall pumpkinZucca barucca, zucca barucca, sang our youngest daughter over and over again when first heard the name. Zucca barucca (or for those that are scientifically inclined, cucurbita maxima) is a large squash with orange meat that looks like a flattened pumpkin but tastes as rich and sweet as butternut squash. It is common to find it in the fall markets of the Veneto region of Italy. Fall and winter are wonderful times for squash, and to us, it is a comfort food.

Squash didn’t actually play a large part in Italian cuisine until the 20th century. It was considered common food and not fit for the “noble” classes. Boy, were those nobles missing something. Some say barucca is a play on the Italian word verruca, which means wart, while others say it is from the Hebrew word baruch, meaning holy. Personally, we like that Italians would name zucca barruca the holy squash. Zucca barucca is not yet available in the States, but butternut squash works just as beautifully in this succulent sauce for fusilli.

Fusilli with Butternut Squash

From Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta by Giuliano Hazan

Photo by Joseph De leo

1/2 medium yellow onion

3 tablespoons butter
2 ounces pancetta, sliced 1/8” thick
1 3/4 pounds butternut squash (approximately)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces medium aged pecorino cheese (such as Crosta Rossa from Pienza)
1 pound fusilli

  1. Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat, and bring to a boil.
  2. Peel and finely chop the onion. Put it with the butter in a 12” skillet and place over medium heat. Sauté until the onion turns to a rich golden color, about 5 minutes.
  3. While the onion is sautéing, cut the pancetta into narrow strips about 1 inch long. Remove the ends of the butternut squash and peel it down to the orange flesh, taking care to remove all the green parts. Cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut into ?-inch dice. You should end up with approximately 1 1/2 pounds or 4 cups of diced squash.
  4. When the onion is ready, add the pancetta and sauté until it is lightly browned, 1-2 minutes. Add the squash and season with salt and pepper. Stir well, then add 1 cup water and cover the pan. Cook until the squash is tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. When the squash is almost ready, add about 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling pasta water, add the fusilli, and stir well. Cook until al dente.
  6. While the pasta is cooking, grate the pecorino cheese using the medium-sized holes of the grater. When the pasta is almost ready, mash the squash in the pan with a wooden spoon and mix in 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
  7. When the pasta is done, drain well, toss with the sauce and grated cheese, and serve at once.