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.