A first-class fruit from Lombardy with a honeyed scent and intense depth of flavour
“It’s like having some nice cupcakes, and then seeing a big delicious cake,” grins MJ, gesturing toward Turnips’ towering, polychromatic pumpkin stand. “All these pumpkins are delicious, of course, for different reasons—but this is a first-class luxury item,” she says, pointing to a squat, irregular pumpkin with a rind like a witch’s finger. “This is the best of the best.”
This is the delica pumpkin: an ugly-looking fruit when set against the rainbow shades of its relatives, blue prince or pumpkemon, but its appearance belies its reputation. Cut it in half, and the radiantly orange flesh and honeyed perfume will tell a tale of a pumpkin pampered, and an ingredient coveted around the world.
“Delicia are good pumpkins. You can get sacks from France, and they are very good indeed. But the treatment these ones get is phenomenal. See the wax tips?” MJ says, drawing our attention toward a small but serious-looking red wax seal at the top of the pumpkin. “This means that instead of being stored or sold once they are fully grown, these pumpkins have been matured for an extra two months, to intensify the depth of flavour and scent.”
Honeyed orange flesh
They hail from Italy—specifically from Lombardy, a region famous in summer for its cantaloupe melons and in winter for its delica pumpkin. Both are fruits; both have honeyed orange flesh and green, gnarly rinds, and both are grown with a view to flavour and quality rather than yield. “While they’re growing, watering is kept to a minimum, so the natural sugars develop. It means they caramelise amazingly.”
The maturation, or ‘slow curing’ process as it’s known, takes this to the next level: storing the pumpkins for two months in rooms heated by wood burning reduces the overall water content and enhances the sweetness still further, creating a dense, creamy texture which lends itself perfectly to roasting, pureeing, pumpkin-based pasta dishes and soup.
“The delica pumpkin is a true prize,” says Ursula Ferrigno, an Italian and one of the many chefs for whom the delica has become a go-to pumpkin. “We love it roasted with chilli to counterbalance its sweetness, then mashed and served with pasta together with garlic, flat parsley and seasoning. Do please anoint with a peppery extra virgin olive oil and use a ridged pasta, which will cling to the delicious flavour,” she urges. It’s a dish MJ would be “first in the queue for. Any pumpkin dish you want to be thick and creamy and flavoursome, delica’s the one.”