From Marche to Romagna, a Roasted Pumpkin Soup, ‘Romagnola’ style #virtualpumpkinparty

I have always lived on borders.
Gradara sits on the border between Emilia-Romagna and Marche, two distinctively different regions. On one side, I can see the sloping, lushly forested hills of Le Marche, where porcini and truffles grow rampant and hilltops are dotted with castles.
On the opposite side, Romagna, with the welcoming warmth of its people, the beaches, the Sangiovese, the bursting life and attitude that makes the people both humble yet extremely stylish – an environment where concepts like La Dolce Vita and Savoir Vivre, find their very meaning. All enriched by my frequent trips to Bologna, which is in Emilia, a city for which I feel a love which depth gets close to that I feel for New York.
Living in between though means a life that is neither here nor there. These 20 kilometers that separate these realities dig a kind of chasm, a sort of land-of-no-one limbo where they constantly ask you “do you feel Marchigiana or Romagnola?’

We have phone numbers from Romagna, yet the province we are under sits in Marche. Our fishermen and food hails from the south of the Adriatic, yet our dialect is from Romagna (I have a strong Romagna accent myself, and I am constantly reminded that). Our food is a mix of the earthy, robust flavors of Marche and the fresh vegetables, fruits and seafood found in Romagna. We can  have the best of both yet feel like we belong to none.

Yet, much as I love Marche, I have no doubt what my answer to the above question would be:

Roasted Pumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural CookingRoasted Pumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural CookingCristina Casadei's home in Forlí | Hortus Natural CookingRoasted Pumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural Cooking

But there was, and still is, much that I do not know about Romagna.

This is rapidly changing thanks to two beautiful soul I had the impossible luck to meet, Nicole and Cristina, who authored a beautiful book called ‘A Year In Romagna’ (along with a super talented photographer, Gianluca Camporesi – but this was a meeting between girls!) which describes the beauties and perks of what we all believe to be one of the most fun and beautiful places in all of the country. They introduced me to many things I had no idea existed in my own land. Did you know that Bertinoro, a village perked up on a hill, is completely surrounded by some of the most important vineyards in the country, and produces amazing Albana, Sangiovese and the grapes needed for Chianti? Or that many restaurants on the Cesenatico beach host famous mixologists and sommeliers? Or that Santarcangelo di Romagna is one of the most fairy-tale like medieval villages you will ever see, studded with beautifully decorated restaurants that all serve unbelievably delicious food?  Or that almost-impossible-to-find varieties of fruits like pera cocomerina or mela rosa are still cultivated and sold here? Or that is an award-winning, world-renowned cheesemaker called Renato Brancaleoni who only makes small batches of fossa cheese flavored with coffee and chocolate, or berries and walnuts, hidden in a tiny place called Roncofreddo, where life barely seems to exist anymore and its few inhabitants sit at the town café looking at the scenery, which extends for kilometers and kilometers along the Adriatic coast?

I didn’t.

Cristina, like all talented people talk about what they do like it is nothing special. Assembled a feast she dared label as ‘not much’: she brought to the table two delightful salads  – an orange, fennel and olive oil one with toasted nuts, and another one with lettuce, chives, pear and Roquefort; polenta cubes baked with a sprinkling of fossa cheese, and this beautiful roasted squash soup, which she topped with Squacquerone cheese, toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of fruity local extra virgin olive oil.
I’d take this ‘not much’ anytime.

This post was thought for the #virtualpumpkinparty, organized by Aimée from Twigg Studios and Sara from Cake over Steak. I immediately thought of this simple, yet wonderful soup we had as we talked about future plans and projects, our passions and dreams. It is as tasty as the many other recipes from the Un Anno in Romagna book, and as colorful as all the yellows and oranges that make Fall in Romagna so gorgeous: the wilting vineyard leaves, the persimmons, the countryside sunchoke flowers and the wild berries, the light of sunset and the herbal teas…

and, of course, the pumpkin.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural CookingRoasted Pumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural CookingCristina Casadei's home in Forlí | Hortus Natural CookingRoasted Pumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural CookingCesena | Hortus Natural Cooking

And these words written in the book by Nicole, who travelled around the world and shares a background that is so similar to mine,  represent so well my feeling towards this land, bright and vivid as these fall colors:

“Today, I feel like I am the stranger: here, in my own land, I try to imagine myself as if I came from beyond the border, and surrender to this party of prodigal energy, welcoming arms that open up for hugs, and smiles that ask you to stay a little longer. Welcoming strangers is celebrated as if it were a festival for a Saint, and glasses are raised and fires for barbecues are lit. This charming atmosphere tells you that there is room for everyone – all accents, origins and generations, as everyone gets busy chasing after a basketful of piadina or yet another glass of Sangiovese… ”

I cannot wait to discover and tell you more, and make you my guests.

A NOTE ON SQUACQUERONE CHEESE: This fresh cheese that is 100% indigenous to Romagna is a real delight:  if burrata and yogurt met and had a baby, that baby would pretty much be Squacquerone. It has a very creamy core, enclosed in a slightly tougher shell, with a tang that reminds Turkish yogurt, and it is eaten by the spoonful, mostly inside piadina with arugula, or as dessert with caramelized figs and fruit compotes, or even in cheesecakes. Chances are you will not find it, so good alternatives in this soup recipes are: chévre or goat’s milk ricotta, or something stronger like Blue cheese – roquefort, creamy gorgonzola or crumbled Bleu d’Auvergne.

Fall Colors | Hortus Natural CookingRoasted Pumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural CookingRoasted Pumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural CookingRoasted Pumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural CookingRoasted PCristina Casadei's home in Forlí | Hortus Natural Cookingumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural CookingRoasted Pumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural Cooking



With Ginger and Squacquerone Cheese

(Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as a main)

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 medium shallots, peeled and quartered
900 g (2 lbs) squash, skin removed and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup strong ginger tea
Vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Squacquerone cheese, to finish
(See note above for good alternatives)
4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Extra virgin olive oil, to finish

Toss the shallots and squash in the olive oil, salt and a pinch of pepper. Bake in a 220 C˚ / 430 F˚ oven until soft and slightly caramelized around the edges, about 15 minutes. My oven works well with these settings, but other ovens might work better at 200 C˚ / 390 F˚ for 20 to 25 minutes. Check the squash cubes with a fork to test doneness.
Once done, add to a blender with half the ginger tea and a little bit of stock, and blend. The soup should be fairly thick. At this point, feel free to add more ginger tea for a strong ginger flavor, or more stick to tone it down, until you reach the desired consistency. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Serve in 4 warm bowls. Finish with a dollop (or crumble) of cheese, a tablespoon of toasted pine nuts per bowl, and a drizzle of really good extra virgin olive oil.




With Cheese and Almonds

(Makes 4 -5 small jars)

For the Figs:
1 kg (2 lbs 30 oz) figs
400 g (2 cups) brown sugar
Grated lemon zest
Optional: a handful peeled almonds

To serve:
Cheeses like pecorino, ricotta, or blue cheese
Toasted almond slices

“This is how you make caramelized figs: Clean each fig delicately and carefully with a damp cloth.
Melt the sugar in a saucepan and, once melted, add the figs one by one. They will start to lose moisture and the liquid will turn into syrup. Keeping the flame as low as you can, cook until the figs will have released all their moisture and the liquid will start to thicken.
Once done, prepare a baking tray and preheat the oven to 150 C˚ / 300 F˚. Arrange the figs and heir liquid in the tray so that they do not overlap and bake for 3 hours, until caramelized and nicely browned.
Sterilize the jars and lids and fill each jar with the figs (do not fill all the way to the brim). Do not forget to wear gloves!
Tightly crew on the lids and leave them upside down for the whole night. The following day, transfer to your pantry, where they will be waiting for a nice merenda or a midnight snack.
If you like, you can add the grated lemon zest to the pan while cooking the figs. An interesting variation ha you insert an almond into each fig before baking: the result is a mix of soft and crunchy, sweet and slightly bitter, all in one mouthful.”
Serve with you favorite cheeses and a sprinkling of toasted almond slivers.



The leftover skin from the squash
Olive oil
Plenty of minced rosemary, sage and garlic
Plenty of sea salt
Pinch pepper
Pinch cinnamon

Toss all the ingredients together – make sure the skins are evenly coated in olive oil for maximum crispiness – and roast in a 220 C˚/ 430 F˚ oven until crispy, about 15 minutes. Bake slightly longer for extra crispiness, but check them often after the 15 minute mark as they might burn.
This is a great recipe to avoid wasting the delicious and fiber-packed squash skin. Wash and dry the squash well before roasting, and choose organic if you can. I love to have these as a snack! They are also great with hummus, guacamole, or any other dip you might fancy.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup, 'Romagnola' style with Ginger & Squacquerone Cheese | Hortus Natural Cooking

Check ALL of this awesomeness out!

  1. My goodness Valentina, so much beauty to start my day…thank you! Everything about this post is so lovely, the colours, the food, the props, and the house; is that your beautiful home? if so, then you are even more blessed than I already thought…

  2. OMG, I always come to your blog with so much pleasure! Reading your post is one of the things that make me happy and grateful in the same time! You are such an inspiration <3

  3. Every time I read your pieces about your home I get angry with myself for not having already gone to Italy. That aside, this soup is stunning. Using ginger tea to augment the broth? Brilliant. This looks so, so good that I am going to have to make this for myself.

    • Let me know how it turns out! And if you ever visit Italy (which you should do, like, NOW) you know you can ask me anytime for tips and places to see / foods to try / etc :)

  4. ho conosciuto per caso il tuo blog e ne sono rimasta affascinata, le foto sono piene d’atmosfera , complimenti ! La zucca è un mio recente amore e mi attira molto la tua ricetta,ha un aspetto delizioso !

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  9. Omggg this soup looks amazing and the photos are soo gorgeous! I’ve admired your work for a while but may I ask what camera and lens you’re using?

    • Hello Anne, right now I am using a Canon 5D Mkiii equipped with a 1.2 50mm lens, but in the past I have also used a 50mm 1.4 and a 100mm 2.8 :)

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