I. On Home & Borders
I always have contrasting feelings whenever I travel to Iran. When I am about to leave, when I just get there, in the middle of the trip and by the time I am back in Rome I always experience very intense, and diverse emotions. No matter how many years have past since I left my country —eight, to be precise— each time, I fail at the vain attempt of keeping a sort of neutrality. It’s that very simple word, with its captivating sound, that causes all the confusion. Home. The more time passes, the more I am convinced that I can no longer attribuite that word to one physical place, but more to a sensation, as it also said here long ago.
I firmly believe that our times will be later named as the era where borders began to disappear. Those borders, are more than the imaginary lines between territories that decide who can get to a certain fortune/misery and who can’t. The borders between our cultures, our lives, our food, are fading away. And I am one hundred percent for it.
Whenever people hear about my cooking stories and the supper club (more on that soon!), usually they first thing they ask is “Do you cook Iranian food, or Italian food?“. My answer to that question is always none. As an Iranian who has lived in Italy for more than eight years now, I can never say the food I cook a hundred percent Italian or Iranian. I have been contaminated —in the best way possible— by the culture of totally different country, that happens to have one of the best cuisine of the world, I have inherited an incredibly sophisticated and refined culinary tradition; and in between, I have tasted the world! I have met a lot of people from different countries. “Who cares what your passport say, or even if you’ve got one. Let’s eat!“. Show me what you got, I wanna try it all.
We are not all that different after all. Not just food wise (you might find it surprising how some Italian and Iranian dishes are similar, like I said here), we human beings, at the end of the day like and dislike the same things. No matter where we come from, what spices we use more in our food, and who we worship, we like to be happy and safe. We hate to know that our family is danger. We all aspire to live a better life. We want to put some pieces together to make prospect. Some of us, like me, are much luckier than others. I wanted to attend a conference for food bloggers in London. I wanted to learn more, to make this blog —therefore my business, my life— better. But because of those imaginary lines, borders, I couldn’t. Despite the time, money and energy I had put in it to make it happen.
Those who don’t have the our privilege of living in safety and peace, spend much more of time, energy and money, to try to aspire to live better. They risk their lives, just for having a mere chance at that. Can —and should— those imaginary lines really determine who can, and who can’t get a chance to aspire for a better life?
II. Seasons Change, Everlastingly. So Bring a Pumpkin Dessert.
Nature is the best example when it comes to show how really similar we all are, in spite of our names and documents. All human beings celebrate the change of seasons and natural changes of the nature. We might’ve interpret it in different ways through history due to our different geography and history, but we are all talking about the same fact.
By now that October is already here, we all have tuned into Fall. Shorter days and cooler breeze. The comeback of the blankets on sofas and soups on the stove tops. The return of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cacao. It’s time for the last harvest of the year and to get ready for the cold season. Dry fruit is more popular. Walnuts and hazlenuts. And of course, the glorious, orange presence of pumpkins, butternuts and kabochas. All types.
In ancient Iran, at these times of the year, they celebrated Mehregan. It’s a festivity of harvest, they say. They brought red fruit and many legumes. They celebrated all together. It was exactly last year at this time when I had the honor of joining of other Persian food bloggers for a recipe round-up. Last year, I shared the recipe for a perfect matrimony between Persian and Italian cooking, —Lentil Risotto. This year, I am sharing a recipe so simple it could be from anywhere. At the bottom of this post you can find the links to all the other Persian food blogs sharing seasonal recipes for the occasion of Mehregan. Remember to check them out! My mom used to make this simple Persian pumpkin dessert during school days, —because it’s so simple and healthy that it doesn’t count as a treat. (and I absolutely hated it! That’s because back at my school days I hated pretty much every vegetable.)
The pan roasted pumpkin heats you up from within and the sweetness, combined with cinnamon and crushed walnuts make you feel like your are having the most luscious, mischievous of all desserts; but it’s actually very healthy. The fiber-and-mineral-rich pumpkin, plus walnuts and little bit of whole brown sugar (or maple syrup, if your prefer. But I like the grainy feel of the sugar). You could use just a nub of butter when you pan roast the pumpkin, it certainly gives the dessert a nice smell. But go ahead and use coconut oil if you please, you could even combine it with some olive oil. Don’t worry, it won’t be the end of the world. The key is to pan-roast one thin layer of pumpkin at a time so that it doesn’t get mushy. Then layer them on a plate and dust each layer with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon and ground walnuts. Tadah! You just won the game of dessert in the season of Fall. It of course tastes better while you look at the turquoise tiles of the poetic Iranian palaces from the 19th century. More photos here.
- 400g/less than a pound pumpkin (better if butternut squash or kabocha since they're naturally sweeter)
- 1/2 tbsp butter/coconut oil
- 1 tbsp seeds oil/olive oil
- 2 tbsp of raw brown sugar* (depends on how sweet you like it)
- 2 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 40g walnuts
- Cut the pumpkin into pieces not thicker than 0.5 cm/ 0.2 inch.
- Slightly toast the walnuts for a minute or two.
- Chop the toasted walnuts, some more coarsely and some finely. Mix the walnut, the raw brown sugar and the cinnamon in a small bowl.
- On a medium flame, heat the oil and the butter/coconut oil in a nonstick pan. Add the pumpkins. Do not put more than one layer of pumpkins at the a time. When golden, carefully turn each piece. Do not use a fork.
- When both sides are golden move to a dish and sprinkle each layer with mix of sugar, walnuts and cinnamon. Top with more layers of pumpkin and repeat for all.
- *You can make pumpkin dessert as sweet as you desire. You can even omit the sugar and drizzle maple syrup on top of the layers of pumpkin at the end.
Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.
Latest posts by Saghar Setareh (see all)
- Virtual Midsummer Potluck for Peace: a Persian Cucumber & “Sekanjebin” Summer Drink - June 19, 2017
- Workshop: The Puglia Encounter: Food, Lifestyle & Photography in Italy’s Deep South, 26 – 29 October - May 31, 2017
- Iranian Food Writers on Persian New Year and Norouz, & “Sabzi Polo Mahi” (Herby Pilaf & Turmeric Fried Fish) - March 18, 2017