Butternut pumpkin-coloured fabric from Frangipani Fabrics
When was the last time you made a risotto? I don't think I've made one since last winter, as it's very much a cold-weather dish to me. It's like savoury pudding: full of comforting carbohydrates.
I have made great hulking pots of risotto - forgetting how much the little arborio grains swell and swell, I ended up with enough thick stodge to feed the whole street. For a couple of weeks. I have made risotto in the microwave, which seemed like cheating. Because I have stood at the stove and stirred and stirred (though it is honestly not as bad as stirring polenta). And I have used risotto as a kind of final resting place for any sad vege that needed using up. Not very respectful.
My desire to make a risotto again came from watching the risotto challenge on Masterchef. It was such a different style to the dense, glue-like risottos of my past - which I thought were normal - these were loose, fluid, silky. Consulting my Italian Food Safari DVD showed the chef with the inpenetrable accent thumping his plate on the bench to flatten out a thin arborio layer. And none of these meals were cooked in a deep casserole pot, but rather a flat wide frypan. So the challenge was on, to redefine how I looked at - and cooked - risotto.
Cue Guy Grossi's heartwarming book, 'Recipes From My Mother's Kitchen'. And as I had a butternut pumpkin (from Dad's garden), the Risotto di Zucca was the obvious choice. I followed Mr Grossi's guidance, and remembered the fluid dishes I'd watched on TV. The butternut melded beautifully into the arborio for a sweet, vibrantly orange risotto. And cooking a very small amount of rice (much, much less than specified) in a frypan certainly changed the game for me.
I said I considered risotto a heavy winter dish, but making this one made me look at it with fresh eyes. In fact, 'Recipes From My Mother's Kitchen' has Risi e Bisi, the classic rice and peas which calls for freshly-podded sweet green peas - one of summer's joys - so I shall definitely be getting out the jar of arborio in a few months' time for that one. But I'm sure I'll make another silkily elegant risotto again soon.
Based very loosely on the Risotto di Zucca in Guy Grossi's 'Recipes From My Mother's Kitchen'. His recipe serves 6-8 and uses a massive half a kilo of uncooked rice; I wanted much less - only two meals. So I used half a cup. However I still used a lot of butternut. You could make this bigger of course, by mainly adjusting your rice and stock quantities.
Update, 23 August: Last night I made this again, using a grey-skinned pumpkin and finely chopped sage. And half a cup of rice. But I ended up with three whopping bowls of risotto - so I'm wondering if originally (as noted below) I actually used 1/3 or even 1/4 cup of rice (but thought I used 1/2)? Um...
- Bring equal parts stock and water to a simmer in a small saucepan. I used 1 and 1/2 cups of a store-bought chicken and the same amount of kettle-boiled water. Keep the kettle close by for any 'top ups'.
- While that's going on, put a good glug of olive oil into a wide frypan and then saute one smallish onion and one big clove of garlic that you've chopped finely. Cook gently until trasnslucent - don't rush this stage (in fact, enjoy it!).
- Meanwhile, peel and cut 300 grams of butternut or pumpkin into 2cm square dice; and finely chop half a tspn fresh rosemary. Put the butternut and the rosemary into the pan and stir for a few minutes. It won't really cook; I think you're just melding the flavours with the onion and garlic.
- Add your arborio rice - I used half a cup (which doesn't look like much next to all that butternut). Stir around for a few minutes to make sure everything is well combined.
- Now add your stock. Mr Grossi advises a bit at a time, and I started doing that; but then I just added the lot. Give it a stir, get it gently simmering, then leave it to cook. Check it now and then to see if you need to add a few more slurps of hot water from the kettle (remembering this is loose and fluid! Not stodgy and thick!) - and to make sure it's not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cook until the rice is done and the pumpkin is disintegrating into the rice.
- Once you're happy with your consistency, remove from the heat and stir thru a couple of spoonfuls of grated parmesan cheese and a few small dice of butter. This makes it beautifully creamy, and the sharpness of the parmesan contrasts perfectly with the sweetness of the butternut (so I didn't season with S&P).