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Zucche Ripiene (Stuffed Squash)

It’s a shame that Leaves from Our Tuscan Kitchen (1899) or its author Janet Ross not more well known. The book’s sub title is ‘Or How to Cook Vegetables‘ and it shows that not all Victorian cooks boiled veggies to a pulp before serving:

Not so very long ago soup was an exception in English houses – almost a luxury. A dish of vegetables – as a dish and not an adjunct to meat – was a still greater rarity; and even now plain-boiled potatoes, peas, cabbages, etc., are the rule. When we read of the dishes, fearfully and wonderfully made, in the old Italian novelle, we wonder whence the present Italians go their love of vegetables and maccheroni.” Preface to Leaves from Our Tuscan Kitchen.

Ross and her husband Henry spent many years living just outside Florence. In Leaves from Our Tuscan Kitchen she brings together the recipes of her chef Guiseppi Volpi which were revised in 1973 by her great-great nephew, Michael Waterfield. A great many of these recipes are vegetarian although some, like this one, contain meat or fish. Ross’ original recipe includes allspice and harks back to medieval cookery. I’ve made a few amendments of my own (like adding beans to the tomato sauce and a breadcrumb topping) but the essence of Ross’ recipe is still there.

Pumpkin stuffed with tuna with a bean and tomato sauce


2 small squash or pumpkins (I like to use a variety called Munchkin) thoroughly washed

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed with a little sea salt

¼ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp dried oregano

1 tbsp Italian vermouth or white wine

1 x 210g tuna in oil

2 tbsp finely grated parmesan

1 tsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar

2 egg yolks

25g fresh white breadcrumbs

  1. Preheat the oven to 180℃.

  2. Cut around one third off the top of each squash. Scoop out the seeds and fibrous middle. Then scrape out as much of the flesh as possible leaving the shell intact (keep the lids for cooking later). All pumpkins and squash differ in the thickness of their skins so don’t be alarmed if your digging doesn’t yield too much. You should be able to get to more flesh when the squash are cooked. Roughly chop the flesh.

  3. Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan. Fry the onion, garlic and chopped squash for around 10 minutes or until tender. Add the allspice, ¼ tsp oregano and vermouth or wine. Cook for a minute then transfer to a bowl.

  4. While the vegetables are cooking drain the tuna reserving the oil. Break the tuna into flakes before stirring it into the vegetables along with 1 tbsp of the reserved tuna oil, 1 tbsp parmesan, lemon juice or vinegar and egg yolks. Mix thoroughly before dividing between the two squash shells. Place the filled squash into a roasting tin.

  5. Mix the breadcrumbs with the remaining tuna oil, dried oregano and parmesan. Spoon over the filling in each of the squash. Replace the lids then cover the tin with foil. Bake for 50 minutes.

  6. Remove the foil and the squash lids. Increase the oven temperature to 200℃. Bake for a further 10-15 minutes or until the topping is nicely browned. Serve hot with a tomato and bean sauce.

Tomato and Bean Sauce


1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp tomato puree

½ x 680g jar passata

200g cooked cannellini bean (1 large tin, drained)

  1. Fry the onion and the garlic in the olive oil. Add the tomato puree. Cook for a minute before adding the passata and beans. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, adding a little water if the sauce looks too thick.

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