Confession: I don’t like pumpkin spice _______. I tried one of those latte things at Starbucks last autumn for the first time, and I thought it was kind of gross. I was excited for what I thought would be a pumpkin-flavored coffee, and instead it was cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and a lot of sugar.
I love pumpkin, though. Like eggs or sandwiches, it’s unfairly categorized as a thing that is to be eaten and prepared just one way. Eggs are for breakfast. Sandwiches aren’t for dinner. Pumpkins are for sweets. Rubbish, I say.
Risotto isn’t nearly as hard to make as people seem to believe, which is great for you: when you make it, everyone acts very impressed. Even though it isn’t very photogenic, it is kind of of sexy. Seasonal and filling, this pumpkin take I invented has been a big hit with everyone I made it for. My best friend is convinced this is how she sealed the deal with her new boyfriend, so strong is the allure of a savory pumpkin dish.
Here’s what you’ll need:
I don’t know why the sizing on that is so wonky, but here’s the list:
a handful of fresh sage leaves
1/3 cup of hazelnuts or pine nuts, toasted and chopped
4 ounces of pancetta (optional)
1 medium white onion, diced
8 ounces sliced mushrooms (button is just fine, but many varieties would be great and I think this would be delicious with porcini or baby bellas)
1/2 cup of white wine
1 cup arborio rice
28 ounce can of pumpkin (be extra sure it is not the pumpkin pie filling and is just plain pumpkin)
28 ounces salted water or vegetable stock
1 cup grated cheese like romano or parmesan, plus extra for garnish
salt and pepper to taste
I don’t want cooking to feel like this horrible set of rigid rules you have to follow, so feel free to make your own choices here about what you do and don’t like. If you’re choosing to use pancetta, start by gently frying it until it’s crispy, then lay it aside, reserving two tablespoons of the oil. If you aren’t going that route, pour about a tablespoon of an oil of your choice (butter or olive oil are ideal; I had duck fat so I used that) into a large, deep frying pan. Fry your sage for a minute or two until it’s fragrant and crispy. The leaves will curl up and it’ll look like this:
Pluck them out of the pan, and then pour in another tablespoon of oil. When it’s shimmering and moving easily, add your diced onion and saute until it begins to caramelize, roughly five minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and saute a bit more– everything should be browning in three or four minutes. While this is happening, pour the pumpkin into a saucepan then refill its can with water or vegetable stock and pour that into the pot, too. Salt it and bring it up to a simmer. This only takes a minute or two since it’s really just thick water.
Now add the rice and stir to combine. You’re just trying to get everything fully homogeneous– this should only take about thirty seconds.
Time to add the first liquid, which is the wine. Pour that into the pan and stir, stir, stir as it evaporates. Take this opportunity to pour yourself another glass so you don’t get bored whilst stirring this rice. After the rice has sucked down that glass of vinho verde, start cooking it down in earnest. Add a half cup of the pumpkin/stock mixture at a time, waiting until the previous measure has been fully absorbed before adding more.
After the rice won’t take anymore of the watery mixture (this will depend on the rice, your elevation, the humidity of your kitchen, and the phase of the moon), you’re pretty much finished. I usually use at least 80% of the pumpkin liquid, and sometimes I run out and need another quarter to half cup of water, so know that your mileage may vary. Add the shredded parmesan to the rice and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and remove the pan from the stove. Divide between four to six bowls (depending on if it’s your main dish or a side), then garnish with the chopped nuts, fried sage, crispy pancetta, and a little extra parmesan, just for fun.
Risotto thickens as it cools, so its texture is best if served immediately. That said, I’ll eat it room temperature and three days old, so don’t turn your nose up at the leftovers. Bon appetit!
Any savory pumpkin recipes you want to share with me?