Pump it up.

I find it virtually impossible to even look at a pumpkin without thinking about a friend of mine doing an impression of Elvis Costello and singing (I use the term singing in the broadest possible sense) ‘Pump(kin) it up‘ and in the middle of Borough market while we were choosing our Halloween orb a few years ago. I laughed so hard I managed to drop the chosen one. As we snorted over the split mess she started singing ‘Pump on the floor’ to the tune of Technotronic’s ‘Pump up the Jam‘ at which point my stomach went into belly laugh spasms, I experienced respiratory problems and we had to retire to the Wheatsheaf Public house for a lunchtime pint and lengthy recompose.

The pump on the chair was a belated birthday present (excellent, I prefer an extended drip drip of gifts as opposed to a downpour) from my friend Andrea. He also gave me a bag of Dante carnaroli rice and a great book about the food of Ferrara which – rather neatly – has a recipe for risotto di zucca (pumpkin risotto) on page 60. But before you can say ‘Risotto can be tricky ‘ I noticed a recipe on the back of the rice packet for a charmingly simple sounding lunch: riso e zucca or rice and pumpkin. It’s a wonderful packet by the way, with a photo of the seductive, sultry Silvana Mangano in the film ‘Riso amaro,’ great rice too, superlative superfino, I only wish I could find you a link and some outrageously good mail delivery offers.

Working on the principle that Signor Dante seems extremely serious about his award-winning superfino carnaroli rice and therefore wouldn’t suggest a shoddy recipe, and that proper risotto – which I adore, both the making of it and the eating – can be unpredictable, I decided to give the recipe on the back of the packet a whirl. It’s all very straightforward. Having peeled or engaged in some fancy carving and de seeded the pumpkin, you cut it into chunks which you then poach in a little water. After a few minutes you add the rice and then – bar the odd nudge, stir and a bit more water – you can leave things alone, bubbling gently, for about 17 minutes. Once the rice is tender, silky, but with bite, you add a thick slice of butter, lots of freshly grated Parmesan, maybe a little salt and a good grind of black pepper, stir enthusiastically and serve.

We were both a little skeptical, no onion cooked in butter, no vermouth perking proceedings up, no chicken stock, no figure-of-eight stirring for 17 minutes, no risotto – were we going to be terribly disappointed? Vincenzo had to remind me four times that we were following a recipe which suggested you stir occasionally as I attempted risotto-style continuous stirring. We both peered suspiciously into the pan at the very very orange contents, we both tasted with furrowed brows. It has to be said the first taste was a pretty subdued experience: the texture was good, the rice was indeed excellent – Bravo Signor Dante, the pumpkin full of flavour, but it was all rather neutral. But then, ‘That was to be expected‘ we mumbled, ‘After all, it was just rice and pumpkin cooked in water.‘ We needed to wait for the addition of the very thick slice of good butter, a little mountain of the king kong of the cheese board: Parmesan, a grind of black pepper and a flick of salt. We tasted again, furrows relaxed.’Very nice‘ sparkled Vincenzo’s eyes, suddenly things were looking and tasting, well, really rather tasty.

We declared it delicious, not as complex or refined as a risotto but, delicious none the less. It tastes as pleasingly straightforward as it sounds on the back of the packet, as true and simple as its name, Riso e Zucca. The rice – creamy and starchy, and the pumpkin – which has partly collapsed into a soft, sweet/savory puree but with some soft, tender chunks, are brought together by the butter and the rich, round parmesan into a glorious soft mound, a delicious yielding whole. As we devoured the whole panful, which was more than enough for four, we discussed the fact that if liked or used the term comfort food – I blame food magazines who hijacked this term then twisted and over foodstyled it into a horrid cliché – we might well use it now.

In the presence of such a majestic piece of Parmesan – another present, this time from my Dad who spent a few days in Rome recently and insisted on doing some of our shopping in Volpetti (another excellent thing) – it seemed churlish not to grate a little more over the top.

Vincenzo reminded me that, as with risotto, our Rice and pumpkin needed a couple of minutes on the plate to settle, so the flavours could come together. After sad two minutes he proceeded to spread the mound out a little on the plate, from the center towards the rim, so the steam dissipated before he took the first mouthful.

My dreadful two-week procrastination in writing this post has meant that we have actually made this four times now, testament to the fact it is very good, beautifully simple and pretty perfect for these autumnal days and my low-key (lazy) presence in the kitchen at present. Advice for this one, well, the best ingredients you can lay your hands on, especially the rice and the parmesan and the pan should be heavy based. I have used both our shallow saute pan and the rather appropriately coloured flaming orange Le Creuset.

Last thing, when I made this for supper with some friends last week, I deep-fried some sage leaves and crumbled them over the top. Soft, velvety sage leaves become crisp like brittle autumn leaves when fried, so you can crumble them between your fingers and scatter their alluring, musty scent over your riso e zucca – highly recommended.

Pump it up I say.

Riso e Zucca (Rice and pumpkin)

  • 300g Carnaroli rice
  • 600g pumpkin flesh (I reckon a this is a 1kg pumpkin peeled and deseeded)
  • 500ml water plus extra
  • 60g butter
  • 50g freshly grated parmesan plus more for on top
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • sage (optional)

Cut away the skin from the pumpkin, remove the seeds and stringy flesh and cut it into walnut sized chunks.

In a heavy based pan or deep frying pan bring 500ml of water to the boil. Once the water is boiling add the pumpkin and let it cook for 4 minutes and then add the rice.

Lower the heat slightly so the water is gently boiling and set the timer for 17 minutes. Now you need to stir the rice and pumpkin gently, turning it, every few minutes or so. You will probably need to add more water, the mixture should be loose, like a thick soup and roll off the spoon – I added another 200ml.

After about 15 mins taste: the rice should be cooked but still have bite and the pumpkin should be soft and collapsing but still retain some shape. Add the butter and parmesan and stir enthusiastically, taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with more freshly grated parmesan and ideally with crumbled deep-fried sage leaves.

Post lunch, slice of cake would have been perfect but grapes and clementines were nearly as nice.

Apologies for being so absent by the way, both with posts and comments. I hope you are all well and that I can pump it up rather more around here in the coming weeks.


Filed under food, grains, pasta and rice, recipes, vegetables

68 responses to “Pump it up.

  1. the pump. you got me snorting over my breakfast on that. those squash will forever be pumps to me now. i think i’ll make some pump e rice today (pumpy rice?); i’ve had one lounging on the counter for ages.
    and happy birthday! are you a libra too? mine was 9 oct.

  2. pretty. and love the descriptions of the dish. x shayma

  3. Lovely! This is going on my to-cook list immediately, if only for the pleasing colour. Most of our pumpkins have been going into pumpkin ice cream (blog post to come soon), but I’ve also bookmarked this recipe from Nigel:

  4. devoured the post, can’t wait to devour this dish. thanks for posting yet another beautiful-looking and sounding thing that i want to make immediately. (so nice to see you back–you were missed.)

  5. Mum and Rosie

    Looks and sounds delicious. England is positively glowing orange, awash with pumpkins just now. You’ve nicely sorted out our supper. We’re well stocked with Volpetti parmesan and there’s plenty of sage by the back door!
    love mum and Rosie and Beattie xxx

  6. Look forward to more scrumptious foods and stories.

  7. Yum. Beautiful color. Looks fab!

  8. The color alone of this dish makes me want to cook it. Beautiful! Carnaroli is my favorite risotto rice.

    • rachel

      Hi Michele,

      I am quite new to carnaroli – I was dedicated to Arborio and then Vialone Nano, but then about a year ago I had a conversion and now there is no looking back. This Dante is a great brand if you can find it in the States!

  9. The colour is amazing. I think it was a brave move following this recipe, as you say pumpkin, rice and water doesn’t sound too tempting so I am very glad that it worked out so well. It looks delicious. I was tempted to make a pumpkin risotto after carving ours but chickened out as I feared it might lack oomph. We decided on the curried pumpkin and apple soup option in the end. I might have changed my mind if I had seen this recipe.

    • rachel

      I’m glad it worked out – especially as I was using such a cute and tasty (gift of a) pumpkin. I like the sound of the soup – is it on blog? coming to check!

  10. Oh that just looks delicious. Yum! Now I am very sorry that I roasted all that butternut squash a week ago, because this looks oh so much better.

    • rachel

      It was good, but to be honest I did think about roasting it because that is my absolute favourite – with rosemary and olive oil.

  11. How very halloween of you. This looks fab. I will have to give it a go. I’m glad your back. Missed ya. The post was great. and I love the idea of the crumpled sage.. B

  12. Hi Rach, I love the simplicity of this dish–ingredients and technique–how grand to let the rice and pumpkin cook and cream up together, without the constant stir. The color is radiant. And, a big YES to adding some crackly fried sage leaves.

    • rachel

      I like the simplicity too and if you have good rice it holds it’s own (and shape) without much attention. I am still craving a good risotto though. The sage is so good – I bet it would be good with a very plain risotto too…

  13. Pumpkin and rice – yum, great combo.
    🙂 Mandy

  14. This post is far too quiet. You need to Pump up the Volume.

  15. Val

    So glad you’re back. Looks as though I’m going to have a pump it up dinner tonight – I’ve been wondering what to do with my pumpkin purchase.

  16. bonjourkitty

    ‘King Kong’ of cheeses… nice x
    ps I met Tilly the other day!

  17. The colour of this is just magnificent! A much simpler alternative to risotto, but just as delicious!

    • rachel

      I loved the colour too, vinx said it was a bit orange – I mean really. It’s lovly and simple, great week night supper. Good rice is fundamental

  18. Fiona

    Great recipe – made it last night and having left over for lunch today. I love these simple italian recipes… Great to find your blog (I live in Rome too…)

  19. Squash and rice go together like Berlusconi and veline.

  20. Oh Rachel, I have missed you. Thank you for cracking me up and sharing a nice simple recipe. I enjoyed both (still smiling). I will definitely be making Riso e Zucca soon.

  21. I tried this recipe on Wednesday and it was really good! Even my boyfriend, who is “allergic” to any kind of vegetables and fruits, liked it a lot. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • rachel

      Irene, that’s great, I am so happy you made it, that it worked and that (mostimportant of all) you BOTH liked it. It is this kind of comment that makes my day!

  22. Edan

    Can you believe there were no pumpkins when I went? Nov 9! Anyway, I wanted something orange, so I did this up with two sweet potatoes in a 1 cm dice.
    Needed a little more water. Crumbled bacon on top and fried sage leaves in the leftover bacon fat. (A little less butter to compensate for extra grease.)
    We also greedily ate the whole thing. Thanks for dinner!

    • rachel

      Sounds ace – I am a big fan of sweet potatoes, oh and the bacon, well, that is inspired I have made a note and be trying that asap.

  23. Val

    Rachel, I made this for dinner last week and it was perfect. It really does all come together when you add the butter.

    It is quite unbelievable that so few ingredients and such ease can create a dish that feels like it has been laboriously made and tastes intense and wholesome.

  24. Great tip on the sage addition (there’s kind of a pun in there somewhere). I made a pumpkin and sweet potato soup recently that lacked a certain something, and I think sage was it. Coincidentally, Lidia Bastianich (American-Italian US TV host) recently aired a show on no-stir rice dishes and risi di zucca and a plain rice flavored simply with butter and sage was another. They just seemed so clean and satisfying. And, no need to apologize for being absent – we’re likely to be absent for another few months yet now that our concept of food is now largely milk-based!

    • rachel

      The sage is really nice, Actually deep-fried-crumbled sage leaves are lovely on plain and fennel risotto too, we are on a roll here. Love to you three x

  25. oh, and even more coincidentally, you mentioned Riso Amaro and Dino de Laurentiis dies today. (i’m not suggesting you had anything to do with it, just that it’s an interesting coincidence.)

  26. I love the idea of the sage leaves – I can’t wait to try this recipe!

  27. I need to cook more pumpkin, I had barely ventured beyond butternut squash before this year but have been slowly trying to be more adventurous.


    p.s – sorry for my long long absence, my blog writing and reading both suffered with the move but, fingers crossed, life is now almost back to normal!

  28. lavi

    deep fried sage leaves? gotta try it asap!!!

  29. I love this recipe, I have made risotto cakes with leftovers of this and some chives. They are delicious.

  30. zerode

    My friend and I made this same dish, more or less, following the recipe from the Brunetti cookbook.

    There were a number of differences. It began with cooking chopped shallots in olive oil (a lot – 6 tbs), then adding a bit of salt, and then the pumpkin, then water. The recipe also called for chicken stock cubes at that point. Unthinkable. I did add a bit of free range chicken stock though. Then cooking for a fairly long period – until the pumpkin was creamy.

    Then adding the risotto rice. After which it was a more typical risotto process – cooking and stirring until the liquid is absorbed, adding more (water near boiling), etc.

    Finish with the butter and parmesan of course.

    I made it again a couple of days later, with onion instead of shallot – okay – without the chicken stock – which wasn’t needed or missed – and with less cooking of the pumpkin before adding the rice, and less stirring.

    The second time was overall an improvement. The less cooking and stirring meant that the pumpkin pieces didn’t entirely melt into the rice, that there were still chunks (not hard) of pumpkin in with the rice. Which was nice.

    I also added fried sage, which is a great addition to many things, but which I usually treat with caution – and especially here, I think. You don’t want to overpower the creamy pumpkin + parmesan goodness.

    Easier to make than a normal risotto (less stirring), the orange color is very elegant. A nice dinner party dish, and one even fussy kids might be willing to eat.

  31. I was schooled on the proper pronunciation of carnaroli this past weekend. (Roberto was saying it slow on purpose so that I would get it, but I kept telling him that the way he was saying it made it sound as if there were two ‘N’s’—then he would say “I’m saying it slow, so you’ll get it”—it was quite comical). When speaking Italian I must ask my throat to do illogical things concerning vowels. Riso Superfino Carnoroli (it’s harder than it looks, carnoroli).

  32. oh, hello! i have a nice round pumpkin, squatting on my counter, and am a deep admirer of fried sage leaves. i can almost taste this as i type. perfect for december, methinks…

  33. When will our dear Rachel return? We miss her. Yes, I’m speaking for everyone.

  34. Ciao Rachelina,
    love love love the crumbled fried sage leaves on this, a touch of genius.
    We absolutely must catch up soon, it’s been too long. I was hoping to see you at Mona’s book signing at the Academy tonight…

    Come stai?
    E xx

  35. Right, it’s been more than a month now. I hope this means you are writing the book about your adventures escaping to Italy!

  36. Dawn

    I hope that you are well and that you will come back to the blogging world soon.

  37. Genia

    Please come back soon! I do miss your blog ever so much.

  38. me 3!
    or 10. or more. hope you’re very well.

  39. I’ll join the crowd and say that where ever you are, I hope you are happy and well! (And that you’ll come back soon.)

  40. Pingback: All you’ll need is a pumpkin | The Albrecht

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