IT’S PUMPKIN SEASON!
Fall has arrived, nature has changed its colors from green to yellow, red, brown and ochre, we have exchanged our summer wardrobes for the winter ones and changed the types of food on our tables. It’s pumpkin season! Winter squash is a very nice vegetable, suitable for preparing a variety of recipes ranging from risotto to ravioli, soup to pasta sauce, cakes to croquettes – and even all by itself. Fall’s famous vegetable, in addition to being a tasty part of many recipes, is a very good and healthy choice of food, an excellent source of beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), a good source of fiber, potassium, iron, folate, magnesium and manganese. Pumpkin is low-calorie and contains lots of water, thus a perfect ingredient to use when slimming down.
RISOTTO CON LA ZUCCA (WINTER SQUASH RISOTTO)
Preparation Time: about 2 hrs Cooking time: 1 ½ hrs + 15-20 minutes Servings: 4 large-6 small
Squash or pumpkin risotto is extremely popular in northern Italy during the cold months. Little wonder, because a good winter squash has a delightful tangy sweetness to it, while the risotto has a splendid creamy texture, perfect on a cold, gray winter day with a nice glass of Italian wine! There are several varieties of winter squash you can use; the one I like the most is zucca di Mantova (Cucurbita maxima, Kabocha). It takes its name from Mantova, a city in northern Italy, where it grows. It has a very sweet, tender flesh, tasting like a cross between sweet potato and pumpkin. It is large, round and squat, dark green and mottled, often with bumpy skin. A good alternative is butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) that also has sweet and nutty taste. When you choose your pumpkin make sure it is firm all the way around.
Zucca di Mantova (half) about 750 g (1 ½ lb)
1 liter (about 4 cups) vegetable or chicken stock
80 g (5 oz) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion or shallot, finely chopped
320 g (about 1 3/4 cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine, at room temperature
25 g (¼ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly white ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C (390-400°F). Cut pumpkin in half crosswise and scoop out the seeds and stringy material. Wash in plain cold water. Place the pumpkin halves on a baking sheet and bake for about 11/2 hours or until the flesh is very tender when pierced with a fork. Don’t worry if the edges are browned. The natural sugars actually caramelize and give it a richer more complex flavor. When it is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and mush it with a fork. Set aside half of the puree. You can freeze the other half in a plastic bag or air-tight container for another risotto. If you don’t have time you can cook it in the pressure cooker for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
- In a large saucepan heat 50 g (about 3 tablespoons) butter. Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 4-5 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions. (This helps regulate absorption of the liquid during cooking.) Add the wine and stir until is completely absorbed
- Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 15 minutes (it depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package)
- Add the squash, cut in small pieces. Cook stiring for about 2-3 minutes.
The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 30 g (2 T).
Remove your risotto from the heat. At this point, stir the risotto vigorously to blend in the cheese and butter. You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes and serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!). If you like you can crumble on top some Gorgonzola cheese.
Note: Cooking pumpkin is much easier than you think. There are different methods: Boiling, Steaming and Roasting. Roasting is my favorite one because it give a richer flavor. You can roast the pumpkin some days in advance and freeze it until you are ready to use it. This process will speed up your risotto preparation time.
It is important to know about rice when buying for risotto; choose short-grained round or semi-round rice, rich in starch; among the best rice for making risotto are Italian Arborio and Carnaroli. Don’t forget that risotto requires a great deal of attention and continuous stirring! Risotto is a perfect gluten-free dish. -Paola