Today I give you a marriage.
As a Hamburger-Helper ingénue living with an Italian family, I had my first introduction to risotto. I was quite taken by the various ingredients that starred in this dish, my favorite by far being melone, or cantaloupe. (This, I will share with you when cantaloupe is back in season.) Later, as an ex-pat living in Munich with my own family, I was impressed with the abundance of pumpkins in the local produce stands during autumn, since the Germans were not a people who bought the orange gourds for lantern-carving purposes. No, they actually carved them and ate them.
Thus, my first recipe is Pumpkin Risotto, a marriage of my initial culinary impressions of Italy and Germany. This recipe can be toyed with. For those who have a large, sturdy chefs knife and a penchant for using it, the pumpkin can be “peeled” and the skinless pumpkin chunks can be boiled. I think that vegetable broth lends a more robust, pumpkin flavor to this dish, but for those who stock their pantries or freezers with chicken broth, that can be used instead (and it imparts a lighter flavor to the dish, in my opinion). My favorite topping by far is fresh grated parmesan, but the lactose intolerant can top the risotto with toasted pine nuts, fresh parsley or thyme, or fried sage leaves. When the butter is omitted, this would be a dairy-free dish, (and it will still have a lovely, creamy texture from the risotto itself). If gluten-free broth is used, this would be a gluten-free dish.
So, here you are. Buonappetito! and Gutten appetite!
- 2 lb. pie pumpkin or sugar pumpkin
- 2 TBSP butter
- ¼ cup cold pressed olive oil
- 1 medium-large, sweet white onion (about 1 ½ cup chopped)
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 4 cups vegetable broth plus 3 cups water
- ½ cup white wine
- Clean the pumpkin and cut it in half (stem and all! But if it’s easier for you cut off the stem first, do that). Scoop out and discard the seeds. Rinse out the halves and salt them. Place the halves, cut side down, in a baking dish and add enough water to just cover the bottom edges of the pumpkins. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until the flesh is tender.
- Meanwhile: Chop the onion and crush the garlic.
- Combine the vegetable broth and water in a pot and set in on medium heat.
- Scoop out the cooked pumpkin flesh—you should have about 2 cups. Puree it in a blender with 1 TBSP butter and ¼ cup broth/water. It should be thick and creamy. (You may add more broth or water if needed.)
- Bring the rest of the broth/water to a low boil.
- Heat the oil and 1 TBSP butter in a large sauté pan. Sauté the onions until soft—about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for about another 1 or 2 minutes (being careful not to let the garlic turn dark brown). You can also add ½ to 1 tsp salt at this point.
- Add the rice and sauté until completely coated with the oil.
- Add the ½ cup wine and stir until absorbed by the rice.
- Use a ladle to add about 3/4 cup of the hot broth to the rice–enough to cover it–and stir until the liquid is fully absorbed by the rice. Continue this method until the rice is creamy and soft enough to eat. It should take a little over 20 minutes. (If the rice doesn’t cook and you run out of broth, just continue to add water until the rice is fully cooked.)
- Add the pumpkin puree and fully incorporate it into the risotto.
- Season to taste and serve immediately, topping it with fresh parmesan or one of the toppings below. This dish reheats nicely by adding broth or water.
- Serves 6 as a hearty main course, or 8 side dishes.
*Every recipe I’ve ever seen for risotto says that it takes 18 minutes to cook, which seems awfully precise to me for a food as temperamental as risotto. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who will be able to create an 18 minute risotto. For me, it always takes closer to 30 minutes, and for my taste, the rice is still plenty chewy (or al dente, which means “to the tooth,” which means “has a little resistance to it when you bite it”).
*If you run out of broth and the rice hasn’t fully cooked, just add a little more water (although this recipe should account for as much liquid as you will need). If you have leftover broth, just save it and use it for another recipe, or throw it out, or do whatever you want to do with it!
*The pumpkin can be roasted ahead of time, scooped out of its shell and saved to puree later; just be sure to heat it before you add it to the risotto. You can also puree it ahead of time and refrigerate until needed, but again, reheat it before adding it to the risotto. (You can even freeze the roasted, mashed pumpkin for several months in an airtight bag or container.)
To fry sage, swirl a bit of olive oil in a small frying pan. Using tongs, add large sage leaves and heat over high heat until the sage is crisp. (Don’t walk away!) Remove the sage, drain it on paper towels, and crumble over the risotto.
To toast pine nuts, simply cover the bottom of a small frying pan with a layer of the nuts. Cook over high heat, tossing the pine nuts in the pan, until they start to brown and omit a toasty fragrance. (Don’t walk away!)
*Omit butter when pureeing the pumpkin. Omit butter when sautéing the onions and garlic, using a very generous ¼ cup of olive oil instead. The risotto will still taste just fine.