This week we have an especially appealing dish for these chilly autumn evenings: spezzatino di maiale e zucca, or Pork and Pumpkin Stew, featuring two seasonal ingredients playing a lovely duo of savory and sweet notes.
Although the Italian word spezzatino is usually translated as “stew”, the technique here is perhaps closer to pan roasting than a true stew. The pork is first browned in a soffritto, then drizzled with wine and, once the wine evaporates, cooked covered in a small amount of water or broth—just enough to keep things moist—until almost tender. At that point, you add winter squash to the pork and let it too cook covered for a few more minutes, until both are fully tender. The flavorings are quite subtle: just a bit of onion or shallot and a tiny pinch of nutmeg to enhance the natural sweetness of the pumpkin, and a sprig or two of rosemary to lend an appealing woodsiness. The pork-pumpkin duo are the true stars of the show.
The beauty of a meat and veg stew like this one is it needs no side dish. But if you feel the need, spezzatino di maiale e zucca would pair very nicely with some buttery mashed potatoes. And if you want to turn it into a hearty and warming one dish meal, or piatto unico, you could serve it over a steaming bed of polenta.
- 600g (1-1/2 lb) pork shoulder, cut into cubes
- 400g (3/4 lb) Kabocha or other winter squash (see Notes), peeled and seeds removed, cut into cubes
- 1 medium onion or 2 shallots, finely minced
- A pinch of grated nutmeg
- A sprig of rosemary
- White wine
- Vegetable broth or water, q.b.
- Salt and pepper
- Butter and olive oil
- A sprig or two of fresh parsley, finely minced
In a large sauté pan or braiser, sauté the onion or shallot gently in butter and olive oil until soft and translucent.
Add in the cubes pork shoulder, raising the heat some, and sauté, seasoning as you go with salt, pepper, nutmeg and rosemary. (Take care to modulate the heat so that the onion doesn’t burn.) When the pork is nicely browned, add the white wine and let it evaporate, scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan.
Now add the broth or water, perhaps a small glassful, just enough to cover the entire bottom of the pan. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until almost tender. Check in from time to time to turn the pork and, if need be, add more water or broth to keep things moist.
When the pork is nearly tender, add the winter squash and continue simmering for another 10 minutes or so, until both the pork and squash are fork tender. Add minced parsley if using and give everything a turn.
Transfer the pork and squash to a serving dish, together with their cooking juices. If you want a proper sauce, add more water or broth to the pan and, once again, scrape up all the brown bits. Pour over the resulting sauce over pork and pumpkin. Sprinkle with more minced parsley (if using) and serve hot.
Spezzatino di maiale e zucca is a homey dish, simple and straightforward to prepare. There are a couple of tricky bits, common to Italian spezzatini in general. First, you will notice that the recipe calls for sautéing the onion or shallot first, then adding the meat to brown. That means you need to be careful about not burning the onion. In this Italian approach—unlike the French method of browning the meat well before adding a mirepoix, for example—the important thing is that the meat takes on the flavors from the onion and other seasonings rather than getting a perfect sear. This step, so typical of Italian cookery, goes by a special term with no real English equivalent: insaporire, literally to ‘fill with flavor’.
The other thing to watch out for: since you cook the pork and winter squash in a small amount of liquid (again, unlike most stews you may be more familiar with, where the ingredients are nearly covered in liquid) you need to take care that the liquid never entirely evaporates. For this, you need to apply very gentle heat and to check in from time to time to add more liquid as needed.
Even though I’ve dubbed this Pork and Pumpkin Stew, I actually don’t recommend using pumpkin, at least not for US-based cooks. As I’ve mentioned before including here and here, pumpkins in this country don’t have anything like the taste and texture of the zucca in Italy. I find our pumpkins, as well as some of other common winter squashes like butternut, mealy and almost tasteless. But thankfully, we now have access to a vast array of winter squashes, some of which are quite satisfactory. I’m particular fond of the Kobocha. To me, it’s comparable to if not quite as tasty as the Italian zucca. I used a red Kabocha for this recipe, and it worked very well indeed. I’m holding out hope for the Cindarella pumpkin, too, but haven’t had the chance to try it out.
As usual for this kind of homey dish, you can feel free to play around with the measurements. I like to have a more or less equal amount of pork and pumpkin by volume. That translates into a bit more pork by weight, hence the 6:4 ratio called for here. But if you want a meatier dish, you can use less pumpkin. And conversely, you use more pumpkin for a ‘flexitarian‘ take on the dish. (No way, obviously, to make this dish vegan or vegetarian…)
In some recipes for spezzatino di maiale e zucca, a dash of paprika lends an earthy note, in which case there’s no need or call for the nutmeg. Other recipes call for sage. It’s an herb which pairs very nicely with pumpkin, as in the classic pasta dish tortelli di zucca con burro e salvia. Yet others call for Marsala rather than white wine, more to emphasize the sweetness. (To my mind, that risks turning a pleasant sweetness into something rather cloying.)
If you want, you can lightly flour the pork cubes. This helps them brown more quickly. If you do go that route, make sure you have a light touch. Otherwise, you’ll risk your stew turning out rather stodgy. As I’ve mentioned before, Wondra flour works especially well for this purpose. Personally, though, I find the dish is fine without flour.
While traditionally this spezzatino is not a “saucy” dish, if you want a proper sauce—say if you are serving this over polenta—then just add water or broth at the end. With the pan juices and the fond that clings to the bottom of the pan, the taste will be wonderful.
Spezzatino di maiale e zucca can be made entirely ahead. In fact, like most stews, it’s even better if served the next day.
Spezzatino di maiale e zucca
- 600g 1-1/2 lb pork shoulder cut into cubes
- 400g 3/4 lb Kabocha or other winter squash peeled and seeds removed, cut into cubes
- 1 medium onion or 2 shallots finely minced
- A pinch of grated nutmeg
- A sprig of rosemary
- White wine
- Vegetable broth or water
- Salt and pepper
- Butter and olive oil
- A sprig or two of fresh parsley finely minced (optional)
- In a large sauté pan or braiser, sauté the onion or shallot gently in butter and olive oil until soft and translucent.
- Add in the cubes pork shoulder, raising the heat some, and sauté, seasoning as you go with salt, pepper, nutmeg and rosemary. (Take care to modulate the heat so that the onion doesn't burn.) When the pork is nicely browned, add the white wine and let it evaporate, scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan.
- Add the broth or water, perhaps a small glassful, just enough to cover the entire bottom of the pan. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until almost tender. Check in from time to time to turn the pork and, if need be, add more water or broth to keep things moist.
- When the pork is nearly tender, add the winter squash and continue simmering for another 10 minutes or so, until both the pork and squash are fork tender. Add minced parsley if using and give everything a turn.
- Transfer the pork and squash to a serving dish, together with their cooking juices. If you want a proper sauce, add more water or broth to the pan and, once again, scrape up all the brown bits. Pour over the resulting sauce over pork and pumpkin. Sprinkle with more minced parsley (if using) and serve hot.
Frank, another delish recipe!
making it again tonight with the remaining half of the kombucha. Thank you for all your wonderful recipes and terrific instructions. Happy Thanksgiving!
And thank you, Alex, for your kind words. Glad you liked the dish!
Perfect for the coming cold snap we are going to have. And I feel very lucky that my farmers market carries some of the best winter squashes – they will be just the right kind for this. I know what you mean about our pumpkins… they are meh.
Lucky you, David! Hope you give this a go, it’s a keeper.
we don’t eat pork but i guess you could make this with other meats!
Sherry, I’d recommend lamb. You may have noticed that another reader substituted pork for lamb and really enjoyed the result.
As always, thanks for the recipe Frank. Looks great. I didn’t try yours yet but it inspired me to make a lamb spezzatino that included lamb, Kobocha squash and saffron. I thought that the stronger flavor of the lamb and the sweetness of the squash would offset each other nicely and they did. You are correct that the kobocha is more tasty than other squashes. Thanks!
Sounds delicious, Denio! Another reader asked about alternatives to pork, and lamb was the first meat that came to mind. Glad to hear it worked so well.
I made this tonight, it was fantastic! This recipe is a keeper according to all at the table. My pork was quite fatty so I needed to remove most of the fat before I added the squash. I am not sure what the squash was, some heirloom variety from the farmer’s market. It was sweet and velvety so it worked well. Thanks Frank!
That’s fantastic, Chuck! Glad you liked it.And you found a good squash to go with–that’s the hardest part.
I went back to the Farmer’s Market and found the squash again. It is called Buttercup if that helps anyone. I made it again on the weekend with a different squash, but it was too dry and mealy.
Oh, this stew looks and sounds terrific – so hearty and inviting! Great combination of aromatics. I particularly love the addition of nutmeg and rosemary here, and I bet sage would be great, too.
Thanks, Ben! I agree sage would be a nice touch, too. It goes great with both pork and winter squash.
Would definitely want to do this, it looks amazing
A remarkable dish. My one observation is that the cooking times specified were short for my taste, especially for the pork. I finished it in a slow oven at about twice the time asked for.
There are so many variables that go into cooking times. Here the quality of the meat or veg and how big your pieces are, for example. And the cooking method. Oven braising generally takes a bit longer than stovetop, I find. And of course, personal taste… Anyway, I’m delighted you enjoyed the dish!
Oh, I would’ve had most of the ingredients for this (including a huge zucca mantovana :D)! Too bad I already have a pot of pork gulasch coming along (the Austrian kind)… Though I can’t say I can complain ;D. I’ll have to give this a go some other time. I love pumpkin season!
Lucky you to have a zucca mantovana to work with! I love goulash, too. In fact, I’m due to present one on the blog soon…
This recipe sounds incredible for these chilly fall days. We’re always looking for new inspiration, and this one certainly qualifies. I’m also intrigued by those Cinderella pumpkins. Looks like I can find the seeds…I bet it would be fun to grow them next year!
I bet it would. Let us know if you give it go… !
“with some buttery mashed potatoes” – yes please, that sounds like a perfect combination!
What a gorgeous, fall dish. It’s nice to have an alternative to beef with the pork. I don’t think I’ve ever had a pork stew before but I’d definitely want to try this. I must keep my eyes peeled for the pumpkin variety you mentioned. We used a very specific pumpkin in Lyon at a cooking class, I recall it was incredibly difficult to peel and cut, I wonder if it was Kaboucha.
Thanks so much, Eva. Pork stew isn’t terribly common in Italian cookery, either, but there are a few recipes out there like this one I really like. I don’t know much about the pumpkin varietals available in France, but I understand the potimarron is popular. It has a tough skin. I do remember them from my Paris days, they were delicious!
What an interesting dish! I like the basic simplicity — just a few ingredients, straightforward technique. But what flavor this must have! Nice — thanks.
The flavor really is very nice, John. If you enjoy hearty dishes like this, I think you’d like it.
You’re really piqued my interest here. I’ll have to keep my eyes opened for the types of squash you mentioned.
Do that Jeff and it should pay off big time!
This is beautiful. I can imagine the flavors! Very interesting about pumpkins…
Thanks! Yes, the situation was truly dire when I first moved back to the US but thankfully things are much better now…
Frank, this will be a great stew to make during our wet and chilly autumn weather. Thanks for the inspiration.
Thanks, Ron! Definitely worth your attention I think…