Pumpkin Risotto with Peas

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When it’s winter, I crave warm, comforting food. One of my favorites is this pumpkin risotto. I feel so gourmet when I make it, but it’s not hard to make as long as you can stay by the stove for 25 minutes. I love that I can make this dish in around 30 minutes from ingredients that I keep on hand. This is no second-rate “eat from the pantry” meal. This is a satisfying, luscious meal. I adapted this recipe from Marcella Hazan’s basic risotto in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I also got a few tips from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. Then I tweaked the amounts and added in ingredients as I experimented. We can trust Hazan and Waters’ expertise that this risotto will come out right.

I make this risotto with different variations. Butternut squash is a good substitution for pumpkin. I hate to say it, but canned pumpkin and butternut squash work fine if freshly puréed isn’t handy. I often include what ever cooked vegetables are leftover in the refrigerator. I love chicken and asparagus in this dish. Even defrosted frozen peas work perfectly in this dish. Sometimes I’ll plan to make this recipe at the end of the week, and I will cook extra chicken and vegetables to add to the risotto. If you want to make the risotto extra creamy, mix in a large dollop of mascarpone cheese. I’ve been craving this pumpkin risotto, so I’m heading straight to the stove.

Recipe for Pumpkin Risotto
Serves 4
Adapted from Marcella Hazan and Alice Waters

Ingredients:
4 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
1-1/4 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice (do not substitute with regular rice)
1/3 cup sherry cooking wine or white wine
1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1/4 cup cooked peas
1/2 cup cooked chicken cut in bite-sized pieces (optional)
1/4 cup scant grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Put the broth in a small sauce pan and bring to a low simmer. Leave the flame on. If the broth starts to boil, leave the flame off.
2. On a neighboring burner, heat the olive oil in a heavy, large sauté pan on medium high heat. Stir the onion until it is translucent. Add the rice and stir until the rice is coated with olive oil.
3. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Add in the wine and stir until the wine has completely evaporated.
4. Add in a 1/2 cup of simmering broth. Stir constantly to help develop the creamy consistency. Stir the sides and bottom surface of the pan completely to prevent the rice from sticking to the pan. The rice should bubble “at a lively pace.”
5. When there’s not much liquid in the pan, add another 1/2 cup broth and keep stirring constantly. Do not let the rice completely dry out. Continue in this manner until the timer goes off.
6. Stir in the pumpkin purée, peas, and optional chicken. Keep tasting the rice for doneness. Cook for about 5 minutes more and stir gently. At this point add in a small amount of liquid at a time until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite. The center of the rice should not be soft. Adjust the final addition of broth so that when the rice is cooked, the liquid evaporates to the point of the rice being moist but not runny. When in doubt, remember that you can always add a little more broth, but it is difficult to take out broth. You may or may not need to use all of the heated broth. Turn the flame off.
7. Season with a few grinds of pepper. Stir in the cheese, which is salty. Taste for salt and add a little if needed. Serve immediately and enjoy.

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