Umbria’s autumn show is in full swing, with golden orange leaves, picture-perfect sunsets and yes, fat rows of pumpkins. “Great,” you’ll say. “I want to be there.” So would I.
I know, I’m in Umbria, but aside from leaves, sunsets and pumpkins things have been tough. Monsoon-like summer rains disrupted our olive harvest for the third straight year. Moisture brings the humidity that olive-loving pests crave. They diligently nibble away until there’s nothing left.
We’ve also had a drop-off in B&B guests. Many people who’d planned trips cancelled them after a spring and summer of urban terrorist attacks. Traveling is seen as dangerous (earthquakes don’t help) and some people stay “safe” at home — until the next mass shooting, at least in America. It’s too bad since Umbria is notoriously un-dangerous — unless you decide to tease a wild boar.
The olive loss wasn’t the worst of it. Someone unscrupulous stole the earnings of a project to which I’d given heart and soul, my trusted cleaning lady of seven years decided to move to another town, and my car stated falling apart. Anything else?
Yes. But none of it makes me gives up believing I have a wonderful life.
Sometimes you have to stop focusing on what’s not working and enjoy what is. In my case that means spending time with smiling people who’ve traveled thousands of miles just to spend a few hours in my kitchen. I focus on doing what I love with modest resources. I listen, learn and exchange kindnesses — a bounty by itself. Imagine pumpkins in this lasagna recipe as the wheels of a golden carriage. Above all, take pride in your creativity.
- A 1 kg (2 lb) orange pumpkin or squash cleaned and sliced into cubes.
- 1 large onion, sliced.
- 150 g (1/3 lb) bresaola (cured meat).
- 450 g (1 lb) mushrooms of choice (I use chiodini).
- 1/2 cup dry white wine.
- 2 very finely minced garlic cloves.
- 120 gr (4 oz) grated Parmesan.
- 250 gr (8 oz) fresh ricotta.
- 300 gr (11 oz) cheese from a young cow (caciotta or provola) sliced thinly.
- 500 gr (1 lb) fresh lasagna sheets.
Organize your worktop for ample space.
— Stew the pumpkin and the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until soft and molten. Add a 1/4-teaspoon of salt, stir, and transfer the mix into a food processor bowl, adding the ricotta. Process until thick and creamy.
— Chop the bresaola and slice the mild cheese.
— Sauté the mushrooms (first comes a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil) over high heat until they start to color, about 3 minutes. Add white wine, sizzle briefly, and continue cooking on low heat until the mushrooms are tender when pierced with a fork. Add the garlic, sauté for one more minute or until fragrant.
— Preheat the oven at 200C (400F) while generously buttering a 40 x 30 cm (16 x 12 inch) roasting pan.
— To blanch the pasta sheets, fill a shallow pan half-full of water and bring it to a boil. Using a slotted spoon, dip one or two lasagna sheets at a time into the boiling water until just soft, about 30 seconds. Strain and place in a single layer in the buttered pan.
— When lasagna sheets cover the bottom of the pan, pour 1/4 of the pumpkin/ricotta mixture on the pasta sheets and spread it in a thin layer. Top with 1/3 of the sliced cheese, 1/3 of the bresaola, 1/3 of the mushrooms and 2 tablespoon of grated Parmesan. Repeat twice more, using all the bresaola, mushrooms and sliced cheese and half of the pumpkin mixture reserving the final 1/4 for the top layer.
— Top with one last layer of pasta sheets, cover thinly with the rest of the pumpkin mixture, sprinkle with 2-to-3 additional tablespoons of Parmesan and bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly and golden around the sides.
Eat, and remember: It’s a wonderful life.