With the fall harvests collected and a chill in the air, recipes in Italy favor the season’s most popular winter squash – pumpkin – for something other than carving a Jack o’ Lantern. Importantly, the month of November begins with two holidays that pay tribute to those who have passed – Ognissanti celebrates the saints on November 1, while November 2 is known as Tutti i Morti, a day that is celebrated by honoring deceased relatives.
It was said that on the night between these two days, the dead come back to visit the places they frequented while alive. This has led to many rituals and symbolic foods. The sweets are known as dolci dei morti, or sweets of the dead, which are offered to the deceased after their long and weary travel to their favorite ‘haunts.’
Creamy Pumpkin Risotto with Pancetta and Parmigiano
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup long-grain rice or Arborio rice
2 ½ cups chicken broth
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup canned pumpkin
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano, plus more for serving
½ cup heavy cream or half-and-half
2 strips thick-cut pancetta, chopped
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender. Add the garlic and rice and sauté for about 1 minute. Add 2 cups of the chicken broth, salt and pepper; cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of broth and the pumpkin and cook for another 5 minutes. The rice will be tender and slightly moist. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano and cream. Cover while you prepare the pancetta.
In a small pan, sauté the chopped pancetta on medium-high heat until crispy, 6-7 minutes. Place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil. Serve risotto, topped with crispy pancetta and freshly grated Parmigiano.
All Soul’s Day Cookies
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp grated orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
3 tbsp honey
2-1/4 cups flour
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
confectioners’ sugar for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2 baking sheets. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar until well blended. Beat in the egg, orange zest, orange juice and honey. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir until well-combined, then stir in the raisins and walnuts.
Break off a piece of the dough about the size of a walnut. Shape the dough into a 2-1/2 inch tubes. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Press to slightly flatten the dough. Repeat with the remaining dough. Place the cookies about 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and set. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar.
Fave dei Morti (Beans of the Dead)
1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp grated lemon zest
Mix sugar, butter and ground almonds. In a separate bowl, mix flour, cinnamon and lemon rind. Combine the two and then add the beaten egg. Mix well.
Shape cookie dough into a ball. You can make the fave dei morti by taking pieces of the cookie dough and forming them into large lima bean-sized shape and place directly on to a greased cookie sheet. Bake the cookies in a 325°F oven for 15 to 20 min, being sure to keep an eye on them, as these cookies burn easily. Cool before removing.
Torrone dei Morte
7 oz dark chocolate
7 oz white chocolate
7 oz milk chocolate
4 oz chopped almonds
1 tsp peanut butter
4 oz ground almonds
4 oz chopped roasted hazelnuts
1 tbsp Nutella
To make torrone dei morti you will need a silicone loaf mold or a loaf tin lined with plastic wrap. Melt 5 ounces of dark chocolate in a double boiler, careful not to over-heat; keep the water just below simmering point. Once melted, pour into mold and move around, ensuring chocolate coats all sides. As it cools and thickens, continue to tilt chocolate over all sides. Place into the refrigerator to cool until solid, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt white chocolate then add peanut butter, chopped almonds and half of the ground almonds, mixing thoroughly. Pour into mold and place back into the fridge. The mixture should fill about half of the mold. Leave for an hour, then make next layer. Melt milk chocolate, then add Nutella, chopped hazelnuts and the rest of the ground almonds. Pour over first layer. Leave overnight to solidify.
The next day, melt the remaining 2 ounces of dark chocolate and pour over the cooled first layer, leveling by smoothing with a spatula. Place into the refrigerator. When solid, turn out onto a board. Level any jagged bits with a carving knife, then cut into one inch thick slices with a very sharp knife.