A Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake with Pistachios & Goat Cheese for Virtual Pumpkin Party

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh

Announcement: I am hosting a Persian Autumn dinner in Rome, Trastevere on November 5th to kick start my supper club. Tickets are on sale and they’re selling fast. Get yours if you’re in town. 

The Virtual Family Gathering

When Aimee contacted me a while ago to take part in the huge food blogger round up for a virtual pumpkin party, automatically my mind started searching for something Persian and sweet. But then I remembered I had already posted my favorite Persian pumpkin dessert last year. So after giving it some thought, I knew I was going for an Italian recipe for this orange marvel of Autumn. A savory one. 

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A hearty pasta bake, I thought. (believe it or not, this is my first pasta recipe on the blog!) A baked pasta dish is the heart of an Italian table at Sunday’s lunch. Just think lasagna, cannelloni or other pasta bakes. It’s often cooked by a granny, or a collaboration of aunts. It should be bubbling hot and cheesy, yet with crunchy and crispy at the edges of the pan, just instant before being burnt. That’s what your guest will fight to get, the angles of baked pasta, kinda of like our Persian tahdig (the crust at the bottom of a rice pot).

Try to picture this big family reunion on a Sunday; where you hear that distant hums of everyone chatting in the kitchen while preparing, when you’re chilling on a couch. It’s a crisp, cool day in October, a large number people sit at one enormous table, break bread, chat and share their stories over a meal. 

This round up is a kinda like those Sunday family lunches; we’re in one hundred and eleven! ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN pumpkin recipes, from different places, and different people. You can find the complete list of all the fellow bloggers with a link to their post after my recipe.

Before I let you sit back and enjoy all these beautiful posts, I should thank Sara and Aimiee for “hosting” this party and all the organization. It’s a tough job, we know, and we’re very grateful of all this shared bounty. <3

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-11
Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-13

Tips for The Pumpkin Pasta Bake with a Persian Touch

This pasta bake is extremely simple, and unlike the typical Italian pasta al forno, is not too heavy/oily/cheesy. I have used only parmesan and aged goat cheese. By all means do add besciamella when layering the pasta if you feel like it. I found the saffron pumpkin sauce sufficiently creamy and wet to embrace all the pasta.

The reason I used aged goat cheese is that the pumpkin sauce (since quite simple), is very sweet, so the full and strong flavor of aged goat cheese is crucial to create a balance between the sweetness and tartness of this dish.

I have used whole grain conchiglie (sea shell) pasta, and I suggest you use a short pasta that can absorb all the sauce. Fusilli e penne can also work well. Use whole grain pasta to get more nutritional goodness and fiber. (Also, refined carbs don’t like me much.)

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-5

For this recipe, I cut the pumpkin (I used kabocha squash) in small pieces for roasting the oven, because I wanted to increase the surface of caramelization on the pumpkin, gives a depth to the flavor. But you can just roast the pumpkin  and scoop out the flesh for making the sauce, although in my opinion it will be too sweet this way. The skin is edible and delicious too! Don’t waste it. I also put two mandarines (cut in half) for roasting the pumpkin in the oven, merely for good (holidayish) smell.  Continue reading

A Simple Persian Pumpkin Dessert, Fading Borders & The Travel to Iran

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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.  #BeautifulIran Visit Iran Pt.1 | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-57

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.) Continue reading

Tales of Autumn, Hallowe’en, Pumpkins and a Crumble

Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab Noon Do you really feel it? Honestly, all this Halloween buzz, this hue of plastic orange covering our cities. Do you really relate to all this? Specially those of you NOT living in north America, those of you who like me, haven’t grown up with Halloween.

Here in Italy (and the same in Iran) it’s been roughly a decade that Halloween has become a popular event. Of course there’s no wonder why. The target of the cheap costume shop is the kids and the teenagers. And who wouldn’t love to dress up in something freaky and spooky?Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonIn Italy, more traditionally the first of November is celebrated, All Saints’ Day. A Christian festivity to remember the deceased. (Halloween actually would be All Hallows’ Eve, which is the vigil of All Saints’ Day). And November 2nd is All Souls’ Day. There are some long interesting historical facts to study about this. But you know what’s more attractive than the dead? Pumpkins! Pumpkins to me are one the strangest, most beautiful, amazing edible things on earth.

Now imagine this field, covered with these huge orange (or green, or beige) balls, that are a mine of sweetness, they’re full of delicious seeds, they come in many beautiful varieties all over the world and we can cook them into endless mouth-watering types of sweet and savory goodness. Isn’t that marvelous?

There’s a very rich culinary culture of pumpkins here in Italy. I don’t know how far it goes back but I have seen many recipes with pumpkins. It sure is no stranger to the Italian palate. There are risottos, pastas, cakes, fries and many other things.

Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonIf you talk to me in Persian about pumpkins, the first thing that comes to my mind is a children’s story called Kadoo-Ghelgheleh-Zan which means Rolling Pumpkin Lady. It’s basically the story of an elderly woman who wants to travel to her daughter’s house across the forest and on her way she meets a wolf, a tiger and a lion. Each of the wild animals want to eat her for dinner but she convinces them to wait until she comes back from her daughter’s house, when she’ll have eaten roast chicken, eggplant stew and rice and has become fat and chubby to make a good dinner.

When she wants to come back home, she sakes her daughter to bring a big pumpkin. They empty it and she goes inside it and rolls away all across the forest towards her home. She meets all of the animals again who ask here “Hey Rolling Pumpkin, haven’t you seen the old lady?”. Naturally she gets home safe and sound after a strife with the Wolf. Happily ever after.Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonI experiment a lot with pumpkins. Specially in sweets, because they’re so naturally sweet that they don’t need much sugar. They’re full of fiber and it literally takes a breath to create something mouth-watering with them. Like at the moment of writing this, I’m sipping on the simplest butternut squash soup ever; Mashed roasted butternut squash, olive oil, garlic powder and chilly. Dinner is served!

To celebrate Autumn in its full glory, I have made a healthy pumpkin crumble. I was inspired by the orange and beige hues around me. It’s been only a week that it’s got colder here in Rome. The days are shorter but we’ve been blessed with sunny days that get quite warm in the afternoon. Right after the early sunset they give in to Autumn chill.Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonHealthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonI live close to a pine grove, and though pines are evergreen, the little dry unwanted plants and spikes have absorbed Autumn to the fullest. I had two little green Kabochas, one orange pumpkin and a beige butternut squash that embrace all the colors of October and the spikes made me choose oats.

Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonHealthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab NoonThe recipe for this healthy pumpkin crumble is really simple. I must make a confession though; the pictures are not from the perfected recipe and the crumble in the photos turned a little dry. I adjusted the doses and made it again but since it was already dark (barely 5 pm), I didn’t take any new pictures.

Healthy Pumpkin Crumble Recipe for Halloween | Crumble di Zucca | by Lab Noon

There’s little gluten and fat in this recipe. The topping is not excessively sweet, because I like to get the sweetness directly from the pumpkin. When served hot, it’s perfect for chilly mornings as breakfast, or with a hot tea in the afternoon. The sweet combination of cardamom, cloves and cinnamon would make sure the heat lingers in you. I served my pumpkin crumble with semi skim Greek yoghurt with a shot of espresso, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon. If you want to keep it vegan, you can do the same with a vegetal yoghurt or ice-cream. Continue reading