Autumn is probably my favorite season for cooking, as the cooler weather and shorter days drive the desire to stay in, shack up, cuddle, dine...which makes it a perfect time for food that straddles the line between seasonal/fresh/light and comforting/slow-cooking/warm.
During my many years living in Italy, zucca, as the general pumpkin/squash family is referred to, was a favorite, and was a prevalent fall ingredient in dishes from the northeastern Veneto region down to Rome. Interestingly, pumpkin was for centuries considered a "Jewish food" -- one that the general population shunned, and so it crept into the Italian culinary vernacular through Italian Jewish populations and their recipes. The larger Jewish populations in both Venice and Rome are the source for a variety of the most beloved pumpkin and squash recipes still cooked today.
The pumpkin flowers -- sometimes from actual pumpkins and sometimes they come from zucchini (a squash relative) -- are put to good use in Italian cuisine. In Rome, they are stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, then battered and fried, and served as an antipasto. In other regions, they're stuffed with ricotta cheese and herbs and are fried or sautéed. They're also favored pizza toppers all over Italy. The zucca itself is made into everything from soups to pasta sauces, risottos to gnocchi and pasta. And roasted pumpkin is a great accompaniment to meats braised and grilled, or fish and seafood dishes in their many forms.
Pumpkin pairs well with pork, so it's served with everything from crispy pancetta and prosciutto to pork loins and roasts, grilled chops, and even porchetta. You can marinate it in a little citrus juice or balsamic and olive oil, and grill it. You can puree it into a sauce or serve it as a side like mashed potatoes, as a healthy starch alternative. It really is a workhorse ingredient! In the U.S. this autumn, pumpkin butter seems to be replacing avocado as the seasonal toast-topper, and I for one welcome the change.
Pumpkin (and squash) are also great for you: they're an excellent source of beta carotene and Vitamin A, as well as some Vitamin C. The seeds of the pumpkin (often called "pepitas" in North and South America) are nutrient-rich, full of magnesium and zinc and protein. Pumpkin seed oil is a delicacy and is used a lot in Central European cooking. Uses for the flowers are mentioned above, making the pumpkin an excellent "whole vegetable" or "root to fruit" complete food item which can be fully consumed without waste.
And of course, at this time of year, we visit pumpkin patches and pumpkins begin to play a very important seasonal role. Not only do we consume pumpkin everything (please see John Oliver's segment on the ubiquity and frenzy over everything pumpkin spice, for a good laugh!) -- it's in our scented candles and body lotions, it's in our sweet and savory breads, and our Thanksgiving pies -- but we also decorate with pumpkins and gourds, we carve jack-o-lanterns, and we dress our kids as big round orange pumpkins! We're pretty pumpkin-obsessed in October and November, though that's fine with me. I've always been a big fan (as you can see me here at a very young age)...enjoy pumpkin season, people!