It wouldn’t be October without a pumpkin recipe, after all the Samhain season is upon us and we all know those big, fat, orange gourds are the perfect Autumnal treat. Whether it’s in a curry, a syrup, or a soup with apples. In many ways, though, this is a trip back to where it all began for me, since the very first recipe ever posted on this site (5 and a half years ago) was a butternut squash and sage risotto. It was, as it is now, a hobby based simply on a love of cooking. I like to think that over the past 5 years I’ve improved somewhat, not least in photography and presentation (I mean come on…what maniac presents a risotto flattened out across a plate on their university desk?! You can literally see the laptop in the background.) Likewise, the recipe has somewhat updated – a bit more prescriptive now, but also a tad more streamlined.
In any case, this is a fantastically simple dish. Don’t believe the naysayers! Risotto is simple, it just takes a little bit of love, attention and time. And while I did use pumpkin for this since it’s the season, do feel free to substitute for butternut squash or any similar squash/gourd if they’re all that are available.
- Risotto rice (I used arborrio, 1/2 mug per person)
- 1 Culinary pumpkin – this is NOT the same as a carving pumpkin, and trust me you do not want to eat one of those.
- Large onion
- A few gloves of garlic
- Sage leaves and dried sage
- Vegetable stock
- Large glass of white wine
- Pumpkin seeds
- A wedge of parmesan – don’t use pre-grated unless you hate your guests.
- Cut your pumpkin in half. Peel, de-seed and chop one half into 2cm cubes, but leave the other as it is. Place the cubes and half-pumpkin (cut side down) in a roasting dish and coat with a little oil and dried sage. Roast at around 200C for 45-55 minutes, until a knife can pierce the half without even the hint of resistance and the cubes are browned but not burned. The reason for the halving is two-fold. Firstly, you’ll likely fit far more pumpkin into the dish. Secondly, the half pumpkin will mash incredibly easily into a soft, creamy flavour base for the risotto without too much of the crisp exterior having formed as it does on the cubes (which make for great topping and texture.) Just trust me on this.
- Once the pumpkin has been in for 20 minutes or so, dice the onion and fry in a little oil in a large saucepan. Same rule as usual – lowest heat, sprinkled with salt and the lid on for about 10 minutes. They’ll get soft and mellow without burning. After this add a few minced garlic cloves and cook for a further minute, turning the heat to medium low.
- Add the risotto rice and stir, keeping it moving. Every grain should be coated in oil and begin to turn translucent. It’ll also give the dish a nuttier flavour backing.
- After a few minutes pour in a glass (or two) of white wine. Stir until it absorbs.
- Fill a second saucepan with vegetable stock and keep on a low simmer. Keeping it hot will ensure it’ll be quickly incorporated and won’t slow the cooking process as it’s added to the rice. From now on, simply add a ladle full of stock to the rice. Stir til absorbed. Repeat. Keep this going til the rice is almost fully cooked – a tiny bite to it, or as the Italians say. Tinio biteo.
- Take the pumpkin out of the oven and carefully peel the skin off the half. Turn it over and scoop out the seeds – it’ll come out easily. Push the cubes to one side and use a potato masher to crush the half-pumpkin into a smooth paste.
- Add the pumpkin paste to the risotto, as much parmesan as you can handle (I use about half a wedge), 1/2 teaspoon or so of freshly grated nutmeg, a handful of pumpkin seeds and a decent knob of butter. Stir through until you have a gorgeous, gooey, creamy, melty, orange pan full of love.
- Top with the roasted pumpkin cubes, a few more pumpkin seeds and some grated parmesan. For the crispy sage leaves simply fry the leaves in a little oil in a small frying pan for 15-20 seconds, then leave on a paper towel for a minute or two.