Things have been quietly getting on in the pumpkin patch. The big leaves have been hiding some steadily enlarging pumpkins and squashes. `I went away for a while and when I came back one of them had grown to gargantuan proportions. Perfect for Halloween but a bit overgrown for the pot. The Crown Prince and Onion squash varieties have grown a little slowly and are at the perfect size. The Turk’s Turbans looked so good, I just wanted to keep them as decoration with their toy shop shapes, colours and patterns.
Small hand, big pumpkin
Different varieties suit being cooked in different ways: the Crown Prince is perfect for soup – it can sometimes be a little floury so it suits having some moisture added; the Onion and Acorn squash are good for roasting, and the big old pumpkins, well, I think they’re best for the children at Halloween.
Piedmont in northwest Italy is famous for some of the finest foods – white truffles, buttery pastas enriched with egg yolks, creamy sauces of Fontina cheese, and pedigree red wines such as Barolo, Barbera and Barbaresco. However, there is another important ingredient that plays a major role in Piedmontese cuisine, which is yet to find the fame outside of Italy of some of these other foods.
Fassone or Razza Piemontese is a breed of cattle used for centuries to provide meat, milk and labour. The pasture-grazing cows provide rich milk, which is used in the local cheeses – Castelmagno, Bra, Raschera and Tome, and until the introduction of tractors, these useful animals did much of the manual work too. But it is the meat that these cattle produce which sets them apart from other breeds.
At Skye Gyngell’s wonderful new restaurant, Spring, where I had lunch yesterday, I was surprised and delighted to find punterelle on the menu. This long-stemmed winter chicory is prized by the Italians and found in every market in Rome during its short season (now until February), but is still a rare ingredient to discover on London menus.
Its name: punterelle – which translates as point, tip or spike in Italian, refers to the hollow white shoots hidden underneath the swathes of long dandelion shaped leaves. The most prized part of the plant is the inner heart, which once stripped of its outer leaves is sliced into fine spikes. It has a crisp texture with a refreshing, gently bitter flavour. More delicate that most bitter chicories, it suits strong flavours and is traditionally dressed with a sauce of chilli, garlic, anchovies and vinegar to make punterelle Romana. The protective outer leaves are often discarded, but I like to use them too. Cooked in plenty of boiling, salted water, which softens their bitterness, and braised with some garlic and dressed with oil and lemon, they make a good substitute for chard or other green leaves.
The inner heart of the punterelle, ready to be sliced