Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: Plump pasta parcels of roast butternut squash, from Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna.
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Mention pasta filled with pumpkin to an Italian and two northern cities will come to mind: Lombardy's Mantova and Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna. Both lay claim on this seasonal favorite, but the Mantovans like theirs with a sweet-savoury filling of boiled pumpkin, amaretti and mustard fruits, shaped as tortelli -- flat squares with frilled edges.
Just over the border of Emilia-Romagna, the Ferraresi have a different version, cappellacci di zucca: plump pockets of pasta filled with roast butternut squash.
First, the pasta. It must be freshly made and it must be egg pasta. Cappellacci are always made by hand -- it's a ritual. The Emilians are famous for their tortellini, but cappellacci ('caplaz' in dialect, meaning “little hats”) are named after a vague resembelance to the straw hats once worn by peasants working in the fields of Emilia-Romagna.
The cappellacci are filled with a mixture of roast butternut squash (or sometimes a local variety of small pumpkin called zucca di chioggia), Parmesan, breadcrumbs, and a hint of nutmeg. It's a specialty that dates to the Renaissance and can be traced to the recipe book of the cook for the dukes of Ferrara, where it was served, like today, with butter.
They can also be served with a meat ragu or tomato sauce, but there's nothing quite like the simplicity of a sauce made with butter, melted until it takes on a caramel glow, infused with sage leaves. It means that rich, sweet butternut squash filling is what sings in this dish.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.