Risotto style pasta with pumpkin is a traditional Neapolitan dish known as ‘pasta e cocozza’ in the local dialect. Like many Neapolitan pasta recipes, this is a simple dish originating in what Italians call ‘la cucina povera’, the peasant kitchen. However, despite its simplicity this is one of the most flavourful pasta and pumpkin recipes I know.
Pasta e Cocozza.
In Naples and much of Southern Italy, the people cook everything with pasta. There’s pasta and peas (pasta e piselli), pasta and beans (pasta e fagioli), pasta with lentils (pasta e lenticchie), pasta with chickpeas (pasta e ceci) and pasta and potatoes (pasta e patate), to name few! A little less well-known outside of Campania, but still very popular in Naples is this pasta e cocozza (risotto style pasta and pumpkin or winter squash).
A lot of Italian cuisine has its roots in the simple dishes of the rural population, back in times when the farmers and village folk lived mostly on foods they produced, cultivated or foraged themselves. Interestingly, these dishes were (and are) mostly healthy and nutritious. Even more fascinating is the fact that today you can find many of these recipes becoming really trendy and oftentimes on the menu of prestigious restaurants! Think cacio e pepe or pasta with nduja!
The pumpkin/winter squash.
If you were to eat this risotto style pasta and pumpkin dish in Naples, it would be made with a Neapolitan long winter squash. Italians call both pumpkin and squash ‘zucca’. So, sometimes I’m not sure which to call it in English! The Neapolitan winter squash (cucurbita moschata) is a pretty long gourd, similar to a bottle gourd. Neapolitans call it ‘cocozza zuccharina’, meaning sweet pumpkin. They also make jam with it!
Delica pumpkin from Mantova.
Since I can’t find Neapolitan winter squash where I live, I used a Delica pumpkin from Mantova. The Delica pumpkin (cucurbita maxima) is a squat, green-grey pumpkin. Beneath the skin, though, is a dense and vivid orange flesh, which is intensely sweet, buttery, and reminiscent of cooked chestnuts.
This early-maturing cultivar was first developed in Japan and is a type of kabocha squash. While Delica pumpkins are widespread across Japan, they have also become one of the most popular varieties grown here in Italy.
These are one of the first varieties available in the season and are often sold in local Italian markets with a signature red wax on the stems (see my photo above) to extend the storage life and prevent the pumpkin from ripening too quickly.
Some consider the Delica to be the most prized of the winter pumpkin/squash varieties! Here in Northern Italy, it’s thought of as one of the sweetest. In Mantova, it’s the star ingredient in traditional Christmas pumpkin tortelli made with amaretti biscuits!
Of course, you can use other types of pumpkin or squash for this risotto-style pasta and pumpkin. I think butternut squash would work well or a kabocha squash which is sweeter than butternut.
When looking for versions of this Neapolitan risotto style pasta with pumpkin, I came across recipes calling for different types of pasta. Many Neapolitans make it with broken spaghetti, whilst others use small pasta tubes (tubetti) like ditalini or ditali or even maltagliati. However, I think you can use any small pasta tube or broken longer pasta. I used orzo pasta (risoni). I particularly love this small soup pasta because the finished dish really looks like it’s been made with rice!
What does risotto-style pasta mean?
Risotto style (risotatta in Italian) means cooking the pasta as one would with rice in risotto. So, you need to cook the pasta in the sauce, stirring often and adding more liquid as necessary until the pasta is cooked. This isn’t the first time I’ve used orzo pasta in a risotto style pasta recipe. Earlier this year I made a risotto-style zucchini flower pasta which is absolutely fabulous!
How to make Neapolitan pasta with pumpkin.
As I mentioned above, this is a simple recipe. Apart from the pumpkin and the pasta, all you need is garlic, peperoncino (red chili pepper), vegetable stock or water, parsley and parmigiano or a vegetarian cheese if you want to keep it strictly vegetarian. Italian parmigiano is made with animal rennet, so it’s not actually vegetarian. For a vegan version, you can just leave out the cheese.
Once you have removed the peel and seeds from the pumpkin, cut it into small cubes and sauté it with the garlic and peperoncino. Then remove the garlic and chili pepper and add some parsley and water or stock. Cook until the pumpkin is soft, then mash it a bit and add more water or stock and the pasta. Cook like you would a risotto stirring until the pasta is cooked. Serve with more parsley and some grated parmigiano.
Impress your family and friends!
My Sicilian husband, Salvatore, isn’t a big fan of pasta with pumpkin or pumpkin risotto, but he loved this dish. I did too. The pumpkin was so creamy and sweet and using pasta instead of rice makes this dish much less starchy, lighter and less filling than a normal pumpkin risotto.
I’m sure if you give this Neapolitan risotto-style pasta and pumpkin recipe a try, you’ll love it as much as we do! If you use orzo like I did, see if your guests realize it’s pasta not rice! Either way, I’m really sure they will be so impressed!
If you make this recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out. Please write a comment here on the blog, email me or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.
Your feedback is really appreciated!
Other delicious pasta recipes from Naples.
- Neapolitan tagliolini pasta pie
- Pasta arancini from Naples
- Mezzi paccheri with mushrooms and cream
- Baked ziti al gratin
- Pasta allo scarpariello
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Neapolitan risotto-style pasta with pumpkin or winter squash (pasta e cocozza)
- Dutch oven or large heavy pan
- 200 g orzo (risoni) pasta (7oz) If using other pasta types you may need more
- 600 g winter squash or pumpkin (1.3lbs) Peeled, seeded and cut into cubes. I used Delica pumpkin. Butternut, acorn or kabocha work too.
- 2 garlic cloves peeled
- 1/2 fresh peperoncino (red chili pepper) or red chili flakes
- 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.
- 1 handful fresh parsley chopped
- 1-2 cups hot water or vegetable stock as required
- 50 g Parmigiano Reggiano (1.8oz) grated or vegetarian cheese
- salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper. to taste
- Peel and seed your pumpkin/squash and cut into cubes. Peel the garlic.
- Sauté the garlic cloves in olive oil, along with the ½ peperoncino (if using), until the garlic has just browned. Remove the garlic (and peperoncino) and add the squash and sauté it for a minute. Then add some chopped parsley and a little hot water or vegetable stock (enough to cover the bottom of the pan).
- Lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook until the pumpkin is quite soft and creamy. If necessary, add a little more liquid.
- Mash the pumpkin a bit but not like a purée, leave some pieces. Season with salt and pepper and peperoncino flakes (if using). Add about a cup of hot water/vegetable stock and the pasta.
- Simmer until the pasta is cooked stirring often. Add more liquid as necessary. You don’t want the sauce to dry out or stick to the bottom of the pan.
- If using, add some grated parmigiano to the pasta and pumpkin. Mix it in and serve immediately with more chopped parsley and cheese.
If you are interested in learning how to make homemade pasta and different types of gnocchi, check out my shop page for some great video online courses from my friends in Rome! Nothing beats learning to make pasta from Italians! Plus while you’re there why not order a copy of one of my pasta recipe cookbooks or checkout some recommended pasta making tools?