Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).
As I write this, the world is in the thick fog of the pandemic COVID-19, or coronavirus. With so many of you in quarantine (or more diplomatically referred to as shelter in place), you’re trying out all those recipes you’ve been wanting to try. Well, now’s a great time to journey with me through Italy.
Today, we’re in Lombardia and I’m offering one of that region’s specialties, squash cake. Although it’s called cake, it’s actually more like a savory loaf with a sweet edge, kind of like corn bread.
What makes this recipe unusual is that it calls for mostarda di Cremona. Also known as mostarda di frutta, it’s candied fruit packed in mustard syrup. (Mostarda di Cremona, from the town of Cremona, is a particular blend of whole or large pieces of various fruit, and is the most well-known variety of mostarda.) If you taste it right out of the jar, you get hit with an unmistakable mustard flavor, reminiscent of yellow mustard, with only an undertone of sweetness. Once incorporated into a dish, the flavor blends in seamlessly and you end up with a complex recipe with an interesting flavor that you can’t quite pinpoint (but it’s the mostarda!).
Anyway, try it out. I hope you like it.
By the way, the note in the original recipe says it’s best to make the mixture a day ahead, but I missed my opportunity to do that. I made it the same day and it was fine.
Torta Salata di Zucca
3 lbs. winter squash
3 tablespoons mostarda di Cremona, finely chopped
2 tablespoons liquid from mostarda di Cremona
2 cups finely chopped almonds
Juice of ½ medium lemon
Zest of ½ medium lemon
¾ cup dry bread crumbs
¾ grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 large eggs, beaten
Pinch grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Lay the squash cut side down on the baking sheet and bake until soft, 40 to 60 minutes.Remove the squash from the oven and let it cool. Scoop out the flesh and discard the shells. Place the flesh in a mesh strainer and cover with a dish. Weigh that down with something heavy (like a tomato can) to remove excess liquid. Alternatively, you can place the flesh in cheesecloth and squeeze out the liquid.Keep the oven at 350 degrees.
In a mixing bowl, combine the mostarda di Cremona, its liquid, almonds, lemon juice, lemon zest, ½ cup of the bread crumbs, cheese, eggs, nutmeg, and salt. Add the squash and blend well.Heat the butter in a small pan. Add the garlic and cook until it’s browned, then discard the garlic. Use half the butter to grease a 2-quart casserole dish. Drip off any excess butter back with the butter in the pan.Transfer the squash into the casserole. Spread it out evenly and smooth out the top. Spread the remaining bread crumbs evenly over the top, then drizzle the butter over the bread crumbs.Bake until set and browned around edges, about 1 hour.