Cucurbitas (Roman Pumpkin or Squash)

Squash and pumpkin

Amazingly, a Roman cookbook from the AD 100s, Apicius, has been preserved. It appears to have been compiled for the chefs working in the kitchens of the Roman elite. Because it was written for “professionals,” who were probably mostly slaves, it doesn’t give exact amounts of each ingredient. I’m a good kitchen technician who can follow a clear recipe, but I’m not an culinary artist! Most of Apicius’s recipes need “translation” into something easy to use for today’s cooks. If you’d like to send me your version of the recipe, I’d be delighted to post it for others to try.

Original Roman Recipe


Cut the pumpkin or squash into pieces and boil to soften.

“Press out the water.”
(I assume this means drain and then pat dry. If there’s more to it, please let me know in the comments. I don’t normally press water out of vegetables when I cook them.)

Arrange pieces in a baking dish.

In a mortar, grind pepper, cumin, and laser, “that is, very little of the laser root and a little rue.”
(Laser root is probably asafoetida, an herb derived from a species of giant fennel. Ads for it say it has a unique smell and flavor, unpleasantly strong while raw but mellow and garlicky when cooked. Laser, laserpitium, and sylphium are names for the same herb, which was both expensive and very popular with Roman chefs.)

Season with “stock.”
(Apicius doesn’t say what kind of stock, but probably chicken would be good for serving with turkey.)

Add a little vinegar and “condensed wine” so the spice and stock combo can be strained.
(Condensed wine has some of the liquid evaporated, but how much isn’t revealed in the recipe. Romans cooked with wine, but you don’t have to. I’ve described some non-alcoholic alternatives. )

Pour the strained liquid over the veggie pieces in the baking dish.

“Let boil 3 times.”
(This one mystifies me. I’m guessing it means bring to boil and remove from heat until the boiling stops twice before the final boil. I’d love to know why you would do this. Please let me know in the comments if you know!)

Tracey shared the following comment on “let boil 3 times” that should help anyone else trying this recipe. ” Use a small roasting pan and heat the squash pieces until the liquid boils and then take it off. Repeat this three times and the liquid will have turned thick. I put mine in the oven for 10 mins to roast off making it crispy on top.” Thank you, Tracey!

Colin shared this about “let boil 3 times.”  Thank you, Colin! “With regards the phrase ‘let boil three times’, I tried it exactly as written and it is an extremely effective method of reducing a liquid. I did not let it cool down completely between boils, but the process is very quick nevertheless.”

Remove from fire and sprinkle with very little ground pepper.

Modern Versions

Roman Squash Recipe
by Regina Fujitani

1 Butternut squash
1 tbsp dry fennel seeds
2 tsp coarse pepper
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp butter
1/8 cup flour
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 to 3 tbsp red cooking wine (depending on taste)

With a mortar and pestle (I didn’t have one so I improvised with parchment paper and kitchen mallet), pound the fennel seeds, cumin, and, coarse pepper together to a fine powder, set aside.

Cut the outer skin off the squash and cut squash into pieces. Then put the pieces in a pan to boil.

Remove pan from stove once the squash has softened.

Strain the squash.

In the pan, melt butter then add flour making the roux, once thick, add seasoning, chicken broth, cooking wine – stirring everything together (when I stirred it ended up being mashed).

Once you’re satisfied with the results and taste, it’s ready to serve!

If you have a different variation you’d like to share here for others to enjoy, I hope you’ll send it to me in the comment box below.


Fact and Fiction by Carol Ashby