We’re on the run up to Halloween. Pumpkins are in every greengrocers and supermarket you walk in to. It would be a shame not to make something of them in the short time they line our shelves, right? I wanted to develop a recipe that you could easily recreate at any time of the year, and this risotto is perfect for that. My family have made this beautiful risotto with butternut squash for a few years now but it works equally well with pumpkin or any other squash, for that matter.
The honeyed flavour of the roasted squash with the salty parmesan work in perfect balance to create this winter warmer. I dressed mine with a kick of spice and crunch from the roasted seeds but lightly fried sage leaves are a welcome way to add more interest and texture.
As I go through this recipe, we’ll look at some of the fundamentals of risotto, where you might be going wrong and what on earth that wooden spoon with a hole in the middle is for. Fair enough, you might prefer to blindly follow my recipe but it’s the geekery in me that’s always asking these questions and wondering why. Knowing these answers is the start to being more independent and creative in the kitchen, and that’s exactly what I want for you. So, let’s start.
To serve 4 you’ll need:1 Small Pumpkin or squash 3 Garlic cloves 1 Onion, finely diced 400g Arborio or carnaroli rice 8 Sage leaves, finely chopped Half a glass of white wine 2.5 Litres Chicken stock 100g Parmesan, grated Knob of butter
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius.
Slice the squash in half and scoop out the center, retaining the seeds. The stringy insides of pumpkin make this tougher to do than most other squash but using a sharp spoon that yields a clean scoop, like the OXO fruit scoops, makes this easier.
Cut the flesh in to inch square chunks. Drizzle a large baking tray with vegetable oil and toss the squash in it. Nestle the garlic cloves between the chunks, leaving the skin on. Roast for 30 minutes until the flesh is tender and the edges are beginning to turn golden. Don’t be tempted to use olive oil in this recipe, its flavour is too strong.
If you’d like to finish your risotto with the roasted seeds, click here for that recipe.
At this point, you can leave the recipe for later in the day or store the roasted squash and garlic in the fridge for tomorrow. When you’re ready to make your risotto, heat a knob of butter in a large saucepan on a medium heat. As soon as it has melted, add the diced onion and fry until softened. This is the start of ‘tostatura’, or the toasting. We want to toast the onions but not brown them, and the same for the rice, which we’ll come to in a minute.
Peel the skins away from the roasted garlic and using a knife, rub the cloves on a chopping board until pureed. Add the garlic puree to the pan, allowing to fry for a minute before adding the sage and rice. Stir to coat the grains in the butter allowing them to heat up, but not brown.
Add the wine, you should hear a satisfying noise as it hits the pan. A sozzle. If you don’t hear it, turn your heat up. Allow the alcohol to cook off briefly.
Mash half of the squash lightly with a fork, leave the other half of the chunks intact. Add around a handful per person to the pan (4 handfuls in this case).
Now, there’s that spoon I mentioned. The girariso (a wooden spoon with a hole in the middle) is designed to cut the risotto stirring work in half for you. As you push the spoon through the mix, the hole allows some of the rice to work the other way, effectively double stirring in one movement. You can of course make risotto without one, but you’ll need to stir much more to agitate the rice and release the starch that separates a good risotto from an exceptional one.
Anyway, it’s stock time. We don’t want the temperature to drop as the stock is added, that would make this a much longer process. To combat this, keep your stock in a pan at a constant simmer or if you’re using instant stock, split your stock cube/jelly and make it in small batches so each is freshly boiled.
Add a large ladleful at a time, stirring it in, keeping the risotto pan at a constant simmer then adding another as the stock reduces. Don’t let the pan go dry or flood the rice. After 15 minutes you should see the rice grains are still separate and although cooked, have a little bite. Dragging a spoon across the base of the pan, you should see the metal for a moment before the wave of risotto covers it.
Take the pan off the heat and add the parmesan and a knob of butter. Here comes the ‘mantecatura’, or the point where you beat the risotto like crazy to combine the cheese and butter with the rice. This releases the last of the starch so stop when you reach your desired consistency. At this point, check the seasoning. Parmesan can be fairly salty so you may not need much salt at all.
I don’t think there’s anything more comforting than a good risotto with that season’s produce. I really hope you enjoy this recipe if you try it and the insights I’ve included give you a little more confidence in making your own or trouble shooting any issues you’ve had in the past.
P.S. I applaud anyone that can take amazing photos of risotto. It’s a tough one!