Some pumpkins do ‘ave ’em

As the weather turns full-on winter, I lean towards food that is richer (fattier) and sweeter (fattier again). Not to say that this recipe for pumpkin risotto is in fact ‘fatty’, but I do like to add a lot of butter to it even if it’s not altogether a ‘must’. This dish is definitely on my list of satisfying comfort food and can be made with pretty much any squash, or perhaps even sweet potato. I would recommend using pumpkin/squash that you absolutely love the taste of, and it needs to be fresh because it’s flavour and sweetness will impart to the whole dish. Unlike other pumpkin risotto recipes I’ve made before, this version calls for pumpkin that is simmered gently in milk until very tender. It is then mashed into a puree with bone broth (or vege broth). This milky pumpkin-enriched broth is then used to plump up the grains of rice. I am a real fan of this method because it makes the risotto rice all the more ‘pumpkinny’. And I do love a good pumpkin or squash. There are so many varieties and they are all quite subtle in taste and texture. I don’t like the pale-flesh ones such as the spaghetti squash or turk’s turban, which I find a bit too watery in texture. In the UK, I loved autumn because onion squash would appear in my weekly vege delivery box. Onion squash is similar to the infamous crown prince pumpkin but it has a unique nutty sweetness and is so lovely and smooth in texture. I’ve been trying to find it here, but I can’t seem to track it down! As I wait for my onion squash to find me, I am enjoying trying the different varieties that can be found at my local farmer’s market. IMG_3701 Pumpkin and sage risotto
Serves 4

200 g pumpkin/squash cut into wedges, plus 350 g pumpkin/squash flesh, diced
10 sage leaves
250 ml /8 fl oz whole milk salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
80 g butter
nutmeg
350 g risotto rice
80 ml vermouth
1 litre chicken stock or vegetable stock
50 g freshly grated parmesan

Put the pumpkin wedges on a baking tray and sprinkle with salt, scatter over the sage leaves, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in the oven, while you make the risotto, for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and tender.

In a small pan cover the diced pumpkin with the milk.  Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender. Using a slotted spoon, lift the pumpkin from the milk into a small bowl and set aside. Mash the pumpkin pieces with a fork into a puree. Add knob of butter, salt, black pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Add the stock or water to the leftover milk and set over a low flame.

In a large heavy-based pan, heat the oil and melt half of the remaining butter. Add the onion to the pan and sauté it gently over a medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the rice to the pan and stir well to coat in butter and oil. Add the vermouth to the pan and let it bubble away and absorb. Start adding the milk/stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring the risotto as you do so. Add a little more once the previous ladleful has been absorbed. The rice is cooked when it is tender and creamy but still firm to bite. Take the pan off the heat and then leave the risotto to sit, covered, for 1 minute. Beat in the remaining butter and the parmesan, taste, season with salt if necessary, and then serve with a slice or two of roasted pumpkin and sage.

(Recipe adapted from racheleats.wordpress.com)

Autumn squash, sage and mascarpone brown rice risotto

At first, I was slightly sceptical about the idea of substituting arborio rice with short grain brown rice as it seemed a little too healthy/too good for you to be appetising. But then I considered the amount of butter and mascarpone goodness that is also included so I thought I would give this a try. I think the risotto could also work really well with wild rice. I am not usually a fan of brown rice unless used in salads with freshly cooked salmon, peppers and lemon zest, but this was possibly one of the best squash-based risotto I have ever made.

The meal was very much inspired by Sophie Dahl’s recipe for Pumpkin, sage and mascarpone brown rice risotto in her book Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights. I was a little hesitant in the beginning to try the recipes in this book (to be honest I had never really thought of Sophie Dahl as a foodie). But one day I was browsing in Waterstone’s and came across her book and it surprised me how many recipes I was dying to try or seemed to appeal to my senses both in terms of the visual and my very excitable tastebuds. I bought the book and all the recipes I have tried so far have turned out delicious. I especially love the sea bass with tomatoes and olive salsa recipe, perfect for a summer’s day. The photographs are drool-worthy and well laid out, recipes are easy to follow and are concise (I love that she uses sizing such as pancakes which should be the size of a ‘chocolate coin’). Sophie Dahl’s reflections on memories, food and family are written like poetry. I have thoroughly enjoyed the book so far, my only complaint is that there were not enough recipes! I hope she does another cookbook.

It amazed me how as soon as the autumnal weather kicked in there appeared to be an abundance of winter squashes. My usual Abel and Cole orders now consist primarily of various squashes. It is my aim this autumn/winter to try all the squashes available. Although I am no hater of the pumpkin, I don’t particularly like having to break them open. It is just such injustice to my Sabatier knives or my meat cleaver, and also by the time I have cracked open an average sized pumpkin, I will have exhausted my energies and would be ready for a lie down opposed to making my meal. I am dying to try the Ironbark variety and also the Turk’s Turban.

I used a lot more butter and onion squash instead of pumpkin (but any sweet and rich tasting squash would work, as long as it is not fiborous in texture). Just to discuss the onion squash a little more: I love onion squash. This was new to me as in New Zealand I have never seen it on the market, not even at Moore Wilson! Moore Wilson is the greatest supermarket of them all, based in Wellington, it stocks heaps of deli food, fresh exotic veges and fruit, and a lot of international stuff that you can’t find in the normal supermarkets in Wellington, they also sell my favourite coffee Supreme beans. Oh how I miss Wellington’s coffee.

This recipe was inspired by Sophie Dahl’s Brown rice risotto with pumpkin, mascarpone, sage and almonds recipe in Miss Dahl’s voluptuous delights.

Pumpkin and mascarpone brown rice risotto

2 finely chopped white onions

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup of vermouth or white wine

1 cup brown rice

1.5 litres of vegetable stock (homemade)

2 cups chopped and peeled pumpkin/onion squash

1 tablespoon mascarpone

1 tablespoon freshly chopped sage

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

Chop and skin the pumpkin or squash into large 2 cm chunks. Line a baking tray with tin foil and lightly oil. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and a few sage leaves. Cover loosly with another piece of foil and put into the oven for about 40 mins or until it is golden and soft. Leave to cool.

In a heavy-based pan, sweat the onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the butter for about 30 mins. Once soft and translucent, add the rice and stir well till it is evenly coated in butter. Keep the heat on low and add the vermouth. Allow to absorb, then add a ladle full of warmed stock. Simmer and stir till absorbed. Keep doing this for about 45 mins as the rice will gently drink the stock up. Once the rice is soft and silky add the pumpkin, then follow with mascarpone and sage. Just before serving, add a teaspoon of butter.

Serves two.