'Marina di Chioggia’ Pumpkin

This delicious New World squash has spread its vines in Italy since at least the 1500s and has become an heirloom pumpkin that’s integral to the local cuisine of the Venetian Lagoon.

| Fall 2017

The quarrel starts over slices of sweet pumpkin, served hot and drizzled with olive oil and herbs. The women put down their bobbins and lace to juggle the bright orange wedges in both hands, blowing on their fingertips to keep them from burning. They shout at each other in lilting, vowel-heavy Italian while cradling the warty rinds and nibbling the rich, meaty flesh.

The argument, of course, was sparked because not everyone got some of the pumpkin.

This scene from the play Le Baruffe Chiozzotte, first performed in 1762 and written by Venetian Carlo Goldoni, depicts an enticing heirloom cultivar called ‘Marina di Chioggia,’ or zucca barucca. The play was set some 20 miles south of Venice in the small Italian fishing hamlet of Chioggia (kee-oh-juh), a city crisscrossed by canals and bridges and sometimes referred to as “Venice’s Little Sister.” More than 300 years later, cream-colored stone houses with red roofs still line Chioggia’s placid waterways. Old men in flat caps still mend fishing nets. On market days, roasted ‘Marina di Chioggia’ is still sold by vendors who call out “Zucca barucca! Barucca calda!

When and where this unusually lumpy pumpkin picked up the names zucca barucca and zucca marina is unclear. Zucca simply means squash. Barucca might be derived from verucca, the Italian word for warts, because the pumpkin’s skin is knobby gray-green. Others claim the word is of Hebrew origin, from baruch or “holy,” because it’s possible that Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition to the ghetto in Venice brought the pumpkins with them as a winter staple.

And the marina part? “You’ll just have to resign yourself to accepting a certain level of uncertainty,” laughs Teresa Lust. Lust is a culinary historian and Italian language teacher whose extensive collection of antique recipe books led her to collaborate with Harry Paris, senior research scientist with the research arm of Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Together, they’ve traced the origin of zucchini breeding to Milan in about 1855.

Names and nomenclature often frustrate food historians attempting to identify fruit or vegetable cultivars in early Italian recipes. Until about 1870, modern Italy was comprised of warring city-states, and less than 10 percent of the population spoke the language we call Italian. “The literature is so confused because people gave different names to the same items and the same name to different items depending on when and where they lived,” explains Paris. It didn’t help that pumpkins and squashes came to Europe from the New World. Early chefs often referred to all three species of New World squashes as zucca marina. They didn’t differentiate between Cucurbita pepo (think zucchinis), Cucurbita moschata, (including tromboncinos), and Cucurbita maxima (such as ‘Marina di Chioggia’). Squashes were beautiful, tasty, and exotic, so Italy’s wealthy quickly brought them into their gardens and onto their dinner tables. (Learn more about the history of squash in Squash On the Scene: The Evolution of Cucurbits ).

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