Month: January 2018

A Pumpkin Cake with an Italian Perspective

I’ve never been enthusiastic about elaborate, over-conceptualized desserts, fancy icings, or multi-layered affairs. Nor have I ever really been comfortable using a pastry bag. My preference has always been for simpler, uncomplicated desserts using fruits, melted dark chocolate, and/or nuts paired with some form of batter as the base. So recently, while looking through some of my cookbooks in search of a dessert in which I could use fall and winter ingredients, I came across the recipe I’m sharing in this post.

In her book titled, Cucina Ebraica—Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen, Joyce Goldstein, the San Francisco-based, nationally recognized chef, teacher, author, and overall Mediterranean cuisine advocate, featured this pumpkin torta from the town of Treviso in Veneto, Italy. The title of the recipe is, Torta di Zucca di Treviso, or more specifically, Torta di Zucca Barucca (the barucca is a type of pumpkin-squash that is the main ingredient in the cake).

The barucca squash is a squat green squash with nubbles or warts on the outer skin. Hence, perhaps in part, the origin of the name associated with the Italian word veruca, which translates as wart.

They are often available in markets in the Veneto region during the fall season, where they have been commonly used in filled pasta dishes or desserts, and recognized as a staple ingredient in the cuisine of the Italian Jewish community in that region.

I realized that finding a barucca squash in markets here was not going to happen, so I had to resort to the suggested substitutes—either a small pumpkin or a butternut squash. I didn’t really care for either of those two choices and opted instead for my go-to squash, the kabocha, which, in fact, reminded me of what a barucca might look like because it also is green, squatty, and has a nubbly surface. But more about the use of the kabocha later.

It took me two attempts to get the recipe right from a textural standpoint. In part because on the initial try I took a short cut and used canned pumpkin puree that I keep on hand for making treats for my dogs. With the pumpkin puree, the finished cake was just too soft and didn’t have the creamy, dense texture I was looking for. The kabocha squash solved that problem.

There were a few other steps I altered between the initial take on the recipe and the final version, which resulted in a better outcome.

I often roast kabocha squash when using it in other dishes because roasting punctuates the squash’s natural sweetness and improves the texture by drying some of the natural moisture. Roasting the squash in this recipe enhanced the texture of the finished cake and also simplified the preparation of the squash overall.

The original recipe requires a half-cup of diced citron (the large tropical citrus fruit with a thick rind used in food preparation, mainly baking and puddings, where the rind is first fermented, then candied). Instead, I substituted a quarter cup of diced candied orange rind with a quarter cup of the citron. Additionally, finely grated orange zest was used in place of the lemon zest called for in the original recipe as I thought it paired better with the candied orange rind/citron combination.

Although Goldstein’s recipe did not call for it, I finished the torta by dusting it with confectioners sugar.

So with that, here is my take on Torta di Zucca Barucca.

Ingredients (serves 8)
1 kabocha squash (or butternut squash), approximately 2 pounds
1½ sticks unsalted butter
1/3 cup raisins + 3 tablespoons grappa (or brandy)
½ cup almonds
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup minced citron + ¼ cup minced candied orange rind
Finely grated zest from 2 oranges
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, separated

Generously butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment, butter the parchment, and set the pan aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the kabocha squash into quarters and remove all the seeds. Lightly coat the quarters with olive oil and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the squash is fork tender. Allow the squash to cool, spoon out all the pulp, discard the skin, and set the roasted pulp aside. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat and set aside.

In another small saucepan over low heat, bloom the raisins in the grappa until most of the liquid has been absorbed, and set aside.

Using a food processor, grind the almonds with one tablespoon of the sugar, into a coarse crumb.

In a large work bowl whisk together the butter, remaining sugar, almonds, citron, orange rind, raisins with any remaining grappa, and the orange zest. Mash the roasted squash pulp and add it to the mix, whisking vigorously to smooth the ingredients together and thoroughly combine.

In a small work bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt until combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the squash mixture, whisking to thoroughly combine. Add the egg yolks, whisking to fully incorporate into the batter.

Mixing wet and dry

Add yolks

Using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites into soft peaks, and using a rubber spatula, fold the whites into the batter until no white remains.

Whip whites

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth out to even the distribution within the pan, and tap the pan on the work surface to remove any air in the batter.

Ready to bake

Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour until the cake is set and a tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Out of the oven

Set the pan on a rack and allow it to cool completely before loosening and removing the springform. The cake should have receded away from the pan’s edge. Once cooled, invert the cake onto a platter, remove the parchment, and turn the cake back over onto a clean platter for serving. Dust the top with confectioners sugar and add a few thin strips of orange or lemon zest to present.


A few orange sections and a dollop of ricotta mousse (ricotta whipped with either cream cheese or Greek yogurt) also pair nicely with a slice of this dessert.


This rich, moist torta reminds me of desserts my grandmother and Aunt Emma (yes, there was an “Auntie Em” in our family), would serve around the holidays. So why not try something a little different for dessert the next time you gather together at your table?

Be well. Eat well.


Good Cooks Never Lack Friends!


Waste not, want not . . . Sandwich of the Day!

Back in October 2014, I published a post entitled Waste Not! Repurpose. At that time I was exploring the idea of using as much of the ingredients I was working with as possible to cobble together something else worth eating and lessening the amount of my own household food waste.

Food waste and hunger are worldwide challenges and there is much to read about both subjects if you have an interest in learning more. Consider these two statistics that were motivation enough for me to find better, more creative ways to use my raw food or leftovers that might otherwise end up in the trash: The average American household throws away 300 lbs. of food per year; the average American household throws away $2,200 of food each year.

Factor in waste generated from the food service industry, the restaurant trade, and the grocery stores and it is clear that the problem still needs to be addressed.

You might say to yourself, “what can I possibly do to address a problem of this magnitude?” Well for starters, if more households made better use of the food they buy and consume each year, that would go a long way in addressing the problem. In the October 2014 post, leftover roasted squash was used to prepare a risotto dish and the leftover risotto was then used to make arancini. One meal’s ingredients building off another to fashion two additional meals–that’s just one example of how it works! Which brings us around to the sandwich of the day, or should I say open-faced sandwich, in this post.

Red chard stems, which in many instances are discarded, were sautéed with garlic and sweet onion, then paired with ricotta, and saba, atop a toasted slice of semolina boule to fashion a tasty open-faced sandwich that we enjoyed for lunch.

The red chard stems could have just as well been stems from green chards leaves or a mix from a batch of rainbow chard, while the bread could have been sliced from many different loaves. I was simply working with what I had on hand. The saba was added to provide a note of sweetness and make the topping just a little more interesting.

Red chard stems

Saba is a reduction of unfermented grape juice (grape must) that can be found in many wine growing regions scattered around the Mediterranean rim. Saba also goes by the names of sapa, vin cotto, or mosto cotto. The concentrated sweet flavor pairs very well with roasted meats such as duck or lamb, strong cheeses, (Gorgonzola comes to mind), and some roasted fruits, (grapes for example). A little goes a long way and it adds a nice punctuation to whatever it is drizzled on.


Here is how this easy, quick-to-assemble, open-faced sandwich was put together.


Sandwich of the Day!

Ingredients (serves 2)
Stems trimmed from one bunch of chard leaves, minced
1 sweet onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 slices of rustic bread, toasted
2 to 4 tablespoons ricotta cheese
2 generous tablespoons saba

Mince and or chop the vegetables as noted.

Mise en place

Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the prepared vegetables, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until they are soft and lightly caramelized, stirring often.


Toast the bread and spread the ricotta evenly. Top the ricotta with the sautéed vegetables and drizzle the saba over the sauté. Couldn’t be easier!

Toasted bread


So the next time you are using chard in one of your meals, don’t discard the flavorful stems. In addition to the open-faced sandwich described here, they can also be added to soups, stuffing, a frittata, or even pickled.

Remember, waste not, want not. I’d be interested to know what you repurpose next time in your kitchen.

Eat well. Be well.


“For you know one must be inspired to cook. Therefore, we always learn from others and end up teaching ourselves.” James Beard