Small, Good Things: Scary Good

By Joe Dizney

The most recognizable of autumn squashes, the pumpkin is a defining feature of the harvest season: you have your giant pumpkins, your pumpkin toss, pumpkin carvings and, of course, your pumpkin pie. You also have your questionably-flavored candy-coffee drinks.

All overshadow the fact that pumpkin is relatively nutritious and flexible enough to be enjoyed in savory comfort foods such as the creamy Pumpkin Risotto offered here.

Rather than the traditional and overly fussy version, which requires rendered fat, a sautéed soffritto (usually just onion or shallots), toasted rice kernels followed by a quick reduction of white wine and constant addition of slow-simmering broth and endless and vigorous stirring, I opted for a version brought back from Milan by food writer J.M. Hirsch.

The soffritto is omitted at the insistence on a quality vegetable stock. The rice is sautéed in butter long enough to break down the starches in each kernel, at which point nearly all of the stock is added — at once — brought to a boil, reduced to a simmer and stirred, vigorously and regularly, but only enough to promote fully cooked rice that doesn’t stick to itself or the pot.

Pumpkin Risotto (Photo by J. Dizney

The pumpkin is added in a pureed form and finished with a mantecatura — the vigorous inclusion of butter and Parmesan off-heat — resulting in risotto that is truly all’onda. That is, it’s neither too loose nor too thick, an earmark of perfect risotto.

Caveat emptor: A recipe as simple as this begs for the freshest, purest ingredients. Here they include a quick homemade vegetable stock and a puree of roasted pumpkin (below). Truth be told, I believe this version is as much or more about the toppings, so if you use quality canned vegetable stock and/or pumpkin puree I’m reasonably sure no one will be the wiser.

This version is finished off with toasted pumpkin seeds and crumbled bacon for texture and a black pepper-balsamic reduction to add a little bright sweetness. If you can find it, a drizzle of toasted pumpkin seed oil adds even more depth.

Joe Dizney is a designer, art director and unrepentant sensualist. When the Cold Spring resident is not thinking about food, he is foraging for, cooking or eating it. Email him at [email protected].

Pumpkin Risotto with Bacon, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds and Balsamic Drizzle

Serves 4

For the balsamic drizzle

Makes about ½ cup, can be made in advance; save excess for other uses.

2 cups balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

For the risotto

1 cup carnaroli or Arborio rice
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups vegetable broth(canned, or homemade as below)
1½ cups pumpkin puree (canned, or homemade as below)
½ cup or more
Parmesan cheese, grated fine

For serving

¼ to ½ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
2 to 4 strips quality bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled
(Balsamic drizzle from above, at room temperature)
(Optional: Toasted pumpkin seed oil for additional drizzling)

  1. For the balsamic drizzle: In a small saucepan, bring vinegar to a boil over high heat and immediately lower to a medium-low simmer to reduce to ½ cup, about 30 minutes. When reduced remove from heat, whisk in honey and black pepper. Reserve at room temperature.
  2. For the risotto: In a small covered saucepan, bring broth to a simmer, reduce heat to lowest setting to keep warm. In a large saucepan on medium high heat, melt two tablespoons of the butter, when completely melted add rice and cook, stirring constantly until the grains are translucent at the edges, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add 2½ cups of the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat immediately to medium and cook, stirring frequently and briskly for about 8 minutes. The pot will still be soupy. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.
  4. Add the pumpkin puree and another ¼ cup of the broth, stirring as before for three to five minutes to incorporate. The risotto should ultimately be creamy and slightly wet and the rice tender but not mushy. Add more broth as needed in ¼ cup increments to retain the consistency.
  5. When done, remove from heat, stir in the butter in pieces and ½ cup of Parmesan to incorporate. Adjust the salt and place in low bowls. Garnish each with a sprinkling of the pumpkin seeds, some bacon and a generous drizzle of the balsamic sauce and a dribble or two of the toasted pumpkin seed oil if you have it. Serve with an extra grating of Parmesan.

Vegetable Broth

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 medium tomato, chopped (about ½ cup)
2 to 3 bay leaves
5 cups water

Bring the broth ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce to a lively simmer and cover partially. Cook over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Strain with a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and return broth to the saucepan, keeping it warm for immediate use.

Makes 1 quart. Can be made in advance and refrigerated up to five days.

Pumpkin Puree

1 4-to-6-pound baking pumpkin (Sugar Pie, Kabocha or Carnival), split and seeds removed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle pumpkin flesh with salt and lay halves, cut side down, on parchment paper-lined sheet pan. Roast 45 minutes; remove pan to cool. When cool enough to handle, scoop the roasted flesh from the skin to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes.

Store in the fridge for up to a week or freeze up to three months. Or consider Pasta with Pumpkin Ragù.

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