This year seems to be all about learning to cook with foods I never knew much about. I know every October is all about the pumpkin in America, but it wasn't till this year, spending every weekend in a farmer's market, that really drew my attention to it. I've only ever had one pumpkin pie in my entire life, I've still never gotten the pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks (although we were just given a gift card there so I may finally try it).
I've also never cooked with a real pumpkin before, only with canned purees. Apparently Indians do cook savory dishes from the squash family all the time, but I've just never noticed, according to my mom.
When I saw an adorable photo of risotto served in mini pumpkins in Feast magazine, I really really really wanted to try it.
So I found 4 impossibly adorable mini pumpkins last week... and one Sunday morning, I put in some time and effort making the most delicious and satisfying risotto in this unexpectedly chilly weather.
I've probably eaten real risotto about two or three times in my entire life. The first time I ever ordered it was in some overpriced fancy restaurant in Atlantic Station in Atlanta. I remember it being disappointing and I also wasn't expecting it to be such wet rice, which is of course, what risotto actually is.
Risotto is basically a rice cooked in broth, resulting in a creamy, thick soup-like dish.
My roommate Ran actually makes a dish all the time that he calls risotto. Joe and I thought it was risotto for the longest time, since I had forgotten my first experience with it. It's very tasty, with lots of basil and Italian seasoning, and the main feature (of course) is bacon.
He starts off adding broth but the end result is completely dry with no semblance of liquid in it. A better term for it would be Italian fried rice, or simply, Ran's Risotto.
It wasn't until we were watching an episode of Top Chef and Tom Colicchio told a chef that a true, perfect risotto must spread when served on a plate. When we saw it on the show, it looked incredibly wet and thick, and was eaten with a spoon. That was when we realized we hadn't actually had real risotto. Ran does make the most delicious dishes, but whatever it is, it's definitely not real Italian risotto.
When I saw the recipe for this, I was aiming to make a real authentic risotto. From what I had seen on Top Chef, it's not very easy to make and requires a lot of patience and attention. But so do macarons, and I figured those out...
I think chopping the little pumpkins was one of the most difficult parts of this recipe. I had no idea they would be so tough to cut through. I managed to do three on my own but Joe had to hack away at the last one for me. There wasn't wasn't much flesh inside at all, and there were so many seeds. I added some extra puree (unsweetened) to the dish since I didn't think the flesh would be enough.
In hindsight, I'd rather make this with 6 mini pumpkins to get more flesh out of it, especially since this recipe can definitely feed six people. It also really depends on how much pumpkin you want to add to the dish.
I don't know what I was expecting while making this, but I certainly didn't expect it to be as delicious as it actually turned out. But the overall result was amazing, and I should probably have a bit more faith in my cooking skills...
I upped the spices (you know I'm a spice fiend) so every bite left the most glorious flavor punch. I also didn't add the entire amount of stock because I didn't want it completely wet.
This is definitely one for the repertoire and would make a great dish to serve at your next dinner par-tay.
Overall, I think I prefer pumpkin in savory dishes over sweet. But my mom did just send me a very old passed-down recipe for pumpkin bread that I may have to attempt next...
Adapted from Feast magazine
4 small pumpkins + 3/4 cup pure pumpkin puree*
2 tbs + 1 tbs canola or grapeseed oil
1 tbs + 1 tbs unsalted butter
2 tbs + 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves (or 1/2 tsp cloves)
1 tsp ground white pepper
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups white rice
1/3 cup Riesling or white wine
1/2 cup parmesan
2 tsp chopped sage
Add the allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon stick, cloves, and white pepper to a small pot with the stock.
Heat until steaming and then reduce heat to low.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Slice off the tops of each pumpkin and hollow them out by scooping out the meat and discarding the seeds.
Place flesh in a bowl and place the hollowed pumpkins on a baking sheet.
Pour a teaspoon of oil inside each pumpkin and then use your fingers to rub the inside and outside of each pumpkin with it.
Sprinkle the insides lightly with truffle or regular salt.
Bake for 15 minutes and then remove from the oven and let cool.
Chop the pumpkin flesh into small pieces.
Bring a large frying pan to medium heat and add 2 tbs oil and 1 tbs butter.
Cook the pumpkin and 2 tbs of shallots on medium to low heat, until tender... about 7 minutes.
Season with salt and adjust, according to taste.
Set aside in a separate bowl.
Using the same pan, add another tablespoon of oil and the rest of the butter.
When the butter is melted and bubbly, add the remaining shallots and cook till translucent.
Add the rice and saute for a few minutes until you hear the rice sizzle and crack.
When the rice becomes about 70 percent translucent, pour the Riesling into the pan and stir until entirely evaporated.
Add 1/2 cup of seasoned stock and stir until absorbed.
Continue to add stock and stir until the rice is cooked through, about 20 minutes total.
Try not to overcook the rice by tasting occasionally and constantly stir to prevent the rice from burning.
Once cooked, stir the pureed pumpkin mixture along with the parmesan cheese into the rice.
Stir in half of the sage.
Place the finished risotto into the hollowed pumpkins and garnish with sage.
Serve warm; reheat for 5 minutes in the oven if need be.
*I didn't have that much flesh inside the pumpkins so I added extra puree that contained no added sugar*
*If making this without real pumpkins, I would use a whole can of puree*
*You may or may not use the entire stock, I had a little bit left over and only used as much as I needed for the rice to cook through. I also didn't want my risotto too watery, which is the traditional way (Sorry, Tom!)
*Halfway through cooking, I added ground cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and white pepper to the rice to amplify the spices, but that's up to you.
*Always add hot or warm stock to risotto, or you may result in unevenly cooked rice.
*You can reserve the stock so that if you have leftovers of the risotto and need to reheat it, you may add some stock to keep it from drying out.