Cappellacci di Zucca is a ravioli like fresh pasta stuffed with pumpkin filling and served with a classic butter and sage sauce.
Ferrara? Said my girlfriends when I had suggested it. We were looking for a place to meet up in Italy after a bike tour in the Veneto area. They’d never heard of it. As I am constantly discovering, there is so much more in Italy than the main tourist spots of Tuscany, Rome, and Florence. Wonderful cities and town where you can explore without the crowds of tourists, eat well, and enjoy amazing new wines you’ve never seen on shelves in the US.
Ferrara is the capital of the province of Ferrara, in the region of Emilia-Romagna, about 50 km northeast of Bologna. The center of town is dominated by the Castello Estense, a brick castle complete with moat, and home to the rulers of Ferrara, the Este family. The Este family ruled Ferrara for close to 400 hundred years, and during their reign, Ferrara became a center for art and culture, and was one of the first examples of Renaissance city planning, earning today it’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage sites. The notorious Lucretia Borgia was married to the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso I, and spent most of her life here in Ferrara, she is buried here as well.
Ferrara is surrounded by some of the best preserved ancient city walls in Italy, dating from the 15th and 16th century. Today, 9 km of cycling and walking paths follow these walls, where you will often find the residents of this “Citta di Biclette” enjoying the outdoors along these quiet tree-lined paths.
After a nice late afternoon bike ride, we headed out for dinner to discover some of the favorite local dishes. The undisputed ‘signature’ first pasta course in Ferrara is cappellacci di zucca, a stuffed pasta with a filling of winter squash or pumpkin, Parmigiano-Reggiano and nutmeg. It is served two ways, either with a butter and sage sauce, or, interestingly enough, a meat ragu. Cappellacci di Zucca Ferraresi are mentioned in recipe books from the Renaissance, when these were prepared for the Este family.
The name cappellacci – known as caplaz in the local dialect – comes from the pasta’s resemblance to the straw hats worn by local peasants. The pumpkin usually used is a favorite local variety, a violin shaped winter squash. In the Renaissance, the cooked squash would be flavored with ginger or pepper, as well as nutmeg, but today these aren’t as popular. This dish is currently awaiting IGP certification (Identificazione Geografica Protetta).
When we were home, my girlfriends and I relived our Italy vacation one evening with a cooking class. I recreated several of our favorite dishes, and this was high on all of our lists. We had a fun night making our out cappellacci, it’s a great recipe to make with a group – the exaggerated size of these stuffed pastas make producing enough for a first course quick work.Print
Kathy Bechtel’s obsession with food and cooking began as a teenager. After years following a traditional career path as a telecommunications engineer, she left to attend culinary school and wine training, and is now combining her passions for food and wine, the outdoors, and travel as owner and Culinary Tour Director of Italiaoutdoors. In this role, Kathy leads small bicycle, skiing and walking tours that explore the authentic regional cuisines, local products and undiscovered wines of Northeastern Italy.