No, this isn’t what I’m making for Christmas lunch, although the thought did cross my mind. Risotto, like ramen, is a dish I always associate with cold weather. It’s proper autumn when I start to make risotto.
On Saturdays, we’d pop to Kollwitzplatz market for me to have my guilty-pleasure panino con porchetta and to pick up whatever the stands have to offer, anything from fresh seasonal produce like mangold and chantarelles to freshly-pressed almond oil (great for skin!).
The weekend I made pumpkin risotto, we were actually looking for mushrooms. A couple of weeks prior, we’d scored a beautiful mound of wild mountain mushrooms, which I also turned into a risotto. It had been challenging to source fresh mushrooms since the weather had been so dry. No dice, no mushrooms this time, but we got these Hokkaido pumpkins instead.
Renzo taught me to cook risotto, and he’s taught me well. I used to get performance anxiety whenever Italians came round for dinner, but these days I’m confident in my cooking skills across multiple cuisine styles. My risotti definitely passes Italian standards. Being a purist helps.
What you need, for 3-4 people
- 1 whole butternut squash or Hokkaido pumpkin
- 2 tablespoons walnut oil
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- 500g risotto rice: I use a mix of carnaroli and arborio
- 750ml vegetable broth, in a separate pot, always simmering
- 1-2 cups dry white wine
- 2 cups grated Parmesan and Grana Padano: I mix 1 cup of each
- 1 cup pancetta, chopped into small pieces
- fresh sage, chopped, about 2 tablespoons
- salt and pepper to taste
Prep the pumpkins
Cut the pumpkin into quarters and remove the seeds. Place on a baking tray, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with 2 tablespoons walnut oil. Bake in oven for 45 minutes at 120C. Remove from heat, and using a spoon, scoop into a mixing bowl and set aside.
Prep the broth
Using fresh vegetable broth is ideal but my shortcut is to use a liquid vegetable extract. It’s tastier than the powder or stock cubes version. I prep about 750ml-1 litre of broth in one pot, which I keep at a low simmer while cooking the risotto.
Prep the risotto base
I use my Le Creuset cast iron for this. I heat the olive oil and butter over a medium heat. Once it’s warmed up, after a couple of minutes, I add the chopped onions and garlic and stir fry until fragrant. Then I add the soft pumpkin flesh to the mix, along with the excess walnut oil from roasting pan.
Cooking the rice
I sautée the pumpkin flesh together with the onions, garlic and dry white wine for a few minutes. While it’s still liquidy, I add the 500g of risotto rice. I keep stirring everything and adding 1 cup of simmering broth at a time. The liquid will be absorbed by the rice, so pay attention to the liquid level in the rice pot. Add the liquid when the previous cup has been absorbed.
This repetitive process should take about 20 minutes, over medium fire. Towards the end of the 20 minutes, I like to add 1 cup of Parmesan/Grana along with 1 cup of broth. Combined with the starch of the rice, I end up with a creamy risotto, which the handsome-and-talented husband really loves.
You know the rice is ready when it’s al dente, like pasta, where it’s soft with a slight bite. Remove from fire.
Pancetta and sage “croutons”
I do this on an cast-iron pan. Line the pancetta on a cold pan, then turn on a low fire to render the fat before turning the heat up to medium to crisp the pancetta. Switch off heat, then add the sage leaves. The residual heat of the pan is enough to toast the sage leaves.
If I had chestnuts on hand, I’d probably have crushed them and toasted them together with the sage and pancetta, to make a kind of oil-less gremolata. The chestnut would complement the pumpkin flavour well!
Spoon the risotto onto plates. Sprinkle the cheese mix over it, then add the pancetta and sage “croutons”. Enjoy!