Next of kin.

Another week another pumpkin. That said, I think the squat and lopsided vegetable above is technically a squash! A kabocha maybe, which means I really should burst into Kate Bush. Or is it a Turban squash?  I did ask the girl in the canestro, but the all too familiar combination of queer Italian (mine,) apathy and complete disinterest (hers) meant vegetable enlightenment wasn’t to be. Let’s call it a zucca.

Yet again, I’m not entirely sure how we all made it home;  la zucca, Luca, 2 bags of flour, a large bottle of detergent, an even larger bottle of Campari and I. Actually that’s not true, I do know, we staggered. At the corner of Via Bodini I undertook an emergency transfer and put the zucca and Campari in the baby sling and slung the wriggling, yelping 14 month old over my shoulder fireman style. Luca thought this was excellent. I did too when I realised that the position of the bottle in the sling was such that I could (if necessary) unscrew the cap with my teeth and take a swig of Campari en route.

Weighing significantly less than last week’s heavyweight, this week’s zucca tipped the scales at a rather more modest 1.8 kg. Once the fiendishly tough rind was carved away I was left – quite astoundingly considering my technique – with all eight fingers, both thumbs and 1.2 kg’s of startlingly orange, dense, sweet and almost velvety flesh. Perfect for my fit of kitchen management and orange plans. That is 300 g for another breakfast cake, 400 g for soup and 500 g for lunch. Lunch being risotto con la zucca.

You need good rice, a simmering panful, a firm hand and 18 minutes of undivided attention to make a risotto my Venetian student Andrea once told me. He was right. By good rice he meant good quality Italian risotto rice such as carnaroli, vialone nano or arborio. Rice that – as Elizabeth David reminds us – can be ‘cooked slowly in a small amount of liquid, and emerge in a perfect state of creaminess with a very slightly resistant core in each grain.’ By simmering panful, he meant the pan of stock you are going to add to the rice. The panful of good stock that should be poised, ladle within, on the back burner of your stove. The firm hand (clasping a wooden spoon) is what’s required to release the all important starch and the essential creaminess of the rice. And the 18 minutes of undivided attention! Well that’s what’s required from the cook.

Before starting the risotto you need to make a puree. You do this by cooking your diced pumpkin/squash/ zucca in milk until it  is very tender, lifting it from the milk then mashing it with butter, salt and pepper and a shower of nutmeg. Remember to cover the puree with tin foil to keep it warm. The leftover milk, gently flavored and the colour of a desert sunset will become the base of your stock. You can add either light chicken stock or plain water to the milk to make it up to a litre. The back burner over a low flame is the best place for your stock pan. Position your ladle nearby and then set about making the risotto.

A heavy based saute pan is ideal. Open the wine, pour a glass for yourself, set the bottle on the work surface and note the time. First peel, dice and then saute the onion in a mixture of butter and oil until soft and translucent. Then add the rice and stir until every grain is glistening with butter and oil. Next the wine, it should sizzle and seethe before being absorbed and evaporating away. Now you can start adding the stock, a ladeful at a time, always stirring firmly and continuously. When the previous addition is nearly absorbed, add another ladelful. Each addition will take longer to be absorbed as the rice works stoically, its starchy coat being steadily eroded by you and your wooden spoon. Remember it is you and your feverish spoon work that is going to agitate the starch in the rice and coax the essential creaminess out.

After about sixteen minutes of adding stock, stir in your pumpkin/squash/zucca puree and start tasting. The rice is ready when it’s tender and creamy but still with a slight resistance at the center of each grain. Resistant not chalky. The consistency of your risotto should be thick and slightly sticky but not stiff. It should roll slowly off the spoon. You may or may not need to use all the stock. Once the rice is done, pull the pan from the heat and then let the risotto rest, covered, for a minute or so to enjoy a quiet swell. To finish – the mantecatura – beat the remaining butter and grated parmesan vigorously into the rice which should render it sleek and glossy.

Lately I’ve been roasting slices of well olive-oiled and generously salted zucca until they are very soft, wrinkled and slightly golden at the edges to put on top of my risotto. You may or may not like to do this. Either way, serve immediately.

For someone like me, someone who can always find a reason not to give undivided attention, making risotto, like Luca’s bedtime, fussing with my eyebrows or making my morning coffee is true solace. It’s one of the occasions in which I allow myself to become entirely absorbed in a task. Good job too, a lazily or distractedly executed risotto will almost certainly be a disappointing puddle of rice and juice. Whereas a well made risotto, one made with good rice, a firm hand, trembling stock and undivided attention is a glorious, complete thing: creamy and starchy, tenacious yet relaxed. For me it’s the ultimate in deeply satisfying comfort food. The zucca works beautifully, both savory and sweet. Don’t forget the nutmeg, just a grating, it lends a nice, slightly exotic, warm, dusty note.

Rachel eats her lunch.

Risotto con la zucca Pumpkin risotto

Adapted from Claudia Roden’s recipe (which in turn comes from the Jolanda and Valentino Migliorini’s restaurant in Caorso near Cremona) in The Food of Italy

Technically serves 4 but I’d make this for two (and Luca) for lunch.

  • 350 g pumpkin / squash flesh, diced.
  • 250 ml /8 fl oz whole milk
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 60 g butter – divided in three
  • nutmeg
  • 350 g / 11 oz risotto rice
  • 80 ml white wine or vermouth
  • 1 litre light chicken stock, vegetable stock or plain water
  • 50 g freshly grated parmesan
  • 150 g roasted pumpkin to serve

In a small pan cover the diced pumpkin /squash flesh with the milk.  Simmer the milk gently until the pumpkin /squash is tender (from 6 – 15 minutes depending on the age and type of pumpkin /squash.)

Using a slotted spoon lift the pumpkin from the milk into a small bowl and set aside. Mash the pumpkin pieces with a fork, masher or immersion blender into to a smooth (ish) puree. Add a third of the butter, salt, black pepper and a grating of nutmeg. Add the stock or water to the leftover milk and set over a low flame.

Peel and small dice the onion. In a large heavy-based pan warm the olive oil and another third of the butter. Add the onion to the pan and sauté it gently over a medium flame until soft and translucent. Add the rice to the pan and stir well so it is completely coated with butter and oil.

Add the wine or vermouth to the pan and let it bubble away and absorb. Set your timer to 16 minutes. Start adding the milk/stock, ladleful by ladleful, stirring the risotto as you do so. Add a little more every three minutes or so, once the previous ladelful has been absorbed.

When the timer rings, stir the pumpkin /squash puree into the risotto and then start tasting. The rice is cooked when it is tender and creamy but still with a slightly resistant core in each grain. You may or may not use all the stock. Pull the pan from the heat and then leave the risotto to sit, covered for one minute.

Beat the last third of the butter and the parmesan vigorously into the risotto. Taste, season with salt if necessary and then serve with a slice of roasted pumpkin on top.


Filed under food, pumpkin and squash, Rachel's Diary, rice, risotto

52 responses to “Next of kin.

  1. sarah

    Absolutely brilliant post rachel….a young elizabeth david tone xxxx

  2. Great, I just had risotto with pumpkin at a place here in Copenhagen and I was wondering whether they might had used pureed pumpkin to get that fantastic texture. You gave me the answer, this sounds like the right way to do it, risotto on top of my list for this week! Thanks Rachel

  3. Bernadette

    I’m eating toast but wish it were your risotto! I love your blog.

  4. Looks lovely. I let ours overcook while trying to photograph it last week–aaaarrrrggggh! We also tried this with BROWN rice and squash–don’t do it! We promise to be good in the future–only arborio, take it off the burner sooner. Nice touch with the roasted pumpkin on top. K

    • rachel

      Hi Ken. I did the same thing yesterday while snapping Bechamel (while balanced on a chair). I am not sure the pan will ever recover. The Roasted pumpkin should be so soft you can stir it in to the risotto.

  5. Miriam Dema

    You can roast the Kabocha squash with the skin on for future reference. That’s a lot of wasted squash with those skins! We eat ours all the time with the skin, it really softens up when you cook it.

  6. Kay

    We grow a winter squash called “Homestead Sweet Meat” that looks identical. Delicious!

    • rachel

      I’ve just been looking at the pictures on your blog – wow what beautiful pumpkin bounty and how lovely to grow your own food. I like the name Homestead Sweet Meat”.

  7. Eha

    Roared with laughter at the picture of you, food, a squirming Luca etc et al! Remember having a bub the same age, not yet driving and living atop a beautiful hill about two kms ‘above’ the shopping centre! Going down fine, coming up with shopping, angry little miss and tired me . . . Oh, love risottos AND pumpkin, so shall follow :) !

    • rachel

      Squirming and putting everything in the washing machine. I don’t check obviously and have 27 very clean walnuts, two rinsed clementines and 4 very clean plastic cars in my damp laundry. You clearly know about the return stagger. x

  8. Love the idea of cooking the squash in milk vs. roasting. This recipe sounds delicious, looking forward to trying it!

  9. laura

    What a blessed way to start a Monday! I, too, LOVE your blog. Love the details (like back-burner advice) and the moments of recognition (like staggering home with bags and babies or like the rare occasions of total absorption). Your clarity makes it all possible; your skill with words makes it all come alive. Thank you.

  10. So funny, since (of course!) I have the exact same zucca sitting on my table. Probably bought from the same vendor.

  11. Well, I am writing this and listening to Babooshka – what a great start to a Monday! I do love a bit of Kate. I love that photo of the chopped pumpkin – the contrast of the skin and the flesh, beautiful. I like the sound of the Campari sling, maybe I could fashion myself something similar. I also love Luca surrounded by the radiccio, and the card made by Uncle Ben. In this house we call frittata scrambled eggs with bits in and risotto is called rice with bits in. I haven’t mastered either and I think it’s because I have zero patience and have failed to master the art of doing one thing at a time.

    • rachel

      I wondered if anyone would get or listen to Kate? And you did! I love that. I highly recommend a campari sling, I might wedge a bottle of martini in there next time so I can take alternate americano swigs.
      We used to call pea risotto green rice. Mincemeat this week! x

  12. I can’t believe that monster really is a squash! As someone who nearly always staggers how with far too much from the market, I totally empathise, although having said that, I didn’t have the added challenge of a baby too. The best was when I seriously overdid it once and ended up staggering and breaking most of the extra large eggs I’d just bought. Your recipe looks and sounds like heaven so I will try to find 18 minutes of undivided attention to try it. At least I can now transport a large pumpkin by car! I always comment how much I love your photos but I can’t resist doing it once more here – sheer perfection.

    • rachel

      Wow a compliment coming from you and your pictures! We too have broken eggs, all six of them, on the stairs just outside our door. A massive mess, I wanted to lie on the floor in the eggs and weep. x

  13. We take our risotto really seriously here in Lombardy. It is an art, although once mastered (and you certainly have!) it is a truly simple and conforting dish. You described the process like a true Milanese, what a delicious looking lunch.

  14. Jenny

    Just sat down at my computer to search for pumpkin risotto recipes, and your email appeared – it was fate! Can’t wait to try it tonight.

  15. Carolle

    Perfect timing, I have half a pumpkin on the kitchen table that I have been neglecting so that’s dinner sorted! My current squash risotto recipe involves roasted onion,squash/pumpkin til the onion is almost burnt ( I forgot the time), a couple of tomatos & a sprinkle of sage. I was too lazy to go shopping & this was all we had in, amazingly it turned out ok.

  16. Gorgeous dish — I can’t wait to lug home my own weighty pumpkin to love and roast and devour. In the States we just finished celebrating Thanksgiving — I bet this would be glorious with some turkey stock.

  17. Just when I was craving pumpkin risotto, your lovely post appeared in my inbox. I have never encountered a great pumpkin risotto, so your revelation of cooking the pumpkin in milk for the puree is brilliant. Delighted, too, that you found a new way to tote both Luca and a bottle of Campari that is beneficial to all. Cheers!

    • rachel

      Hi Michele. I am delighted too, I will be wedging a beer in there today. The pumpkin in the milk is great (i think) and the remaining milk gives the stock a soft, creamy edge. Hope you are well xx

  18. What a wonderful post, and gorgeous recipe. I am utterly inspired!

  19. Pingback: Roasted Carrot Onion Soup with Dukkah Spice | Food Loves Writing

  20. I’ve got a freezer full of roasted pumpkin puree that we’ve been eating every which way (curried with chickpeas and cilantro, or topped with cannellini, pasta, and pesto, etc). We’ve almost had our fill, and I think the last of it will be used for this risotto.

  21. Pia

    The first photo of the pumpkin is so quiet, it gives away nothing of your uphill struggle to bring it home :) And then the second photo, as yellow as a birthday balloon. Gorgeous.
    The risotto does look like one that had your undivided attention. Comfort food indeed.

    • rachel

      It did. My little boy on the other hand didn’t and as a consequence put 4 toys and 2 clementines in the washing machine. i didn’t check of course, so toys and fruit are all very clean.

  22. Ah, yes, I know that apathetic reply well, the disinterest usually accompanied by a shrug, when all I want to know is “What is this thing, and how do you cook it?” Evocative as always, cara.

  23. La zucca! We just learned that word in my Italian class. And I’m famous for buying more groceries than I can comfortably carry home, though I’ve never tried it with un bambino. I would have thought the Italian style of grocery shopping, spread out between various specialized shops, would prevent this from happening because you’d have opportunities to reassess the situation before it got out of control. But I guess those winter squash and bottles of booze are going to jump into the bag whether your shoulders want them to or not.

    Anyway… the best risotto I’ve ever made was the asparagus one you wrote about last Spring, so I can’t wait to try this one. Supposing someone happened to be lazy and happened to have one too many cans of pureed pumpkin lying around (those like to jump into grocery bags too), do you think a 15 oz can would work in place of la zucca? Maybe start with 2/3rds of the can and then see if the risotto can handle any more?

    • rachel

      I think a can of pumpkin puree would work. You’ll miss the pumpkin-flavoured-milk to add to the stock but I don’t think that will matter too much. Do it!
      I too hoped shopping at smaller shops most days (I am still in a semi-maternity-leave-hiatus) would help my lack of shopping management. It didn’t.
      So glad you liked the asparagus risotto – I do too.

  24. Lovely, lovely post. Until I’d made several unrewarding attempts at risotto I didn’t take the undivided attention bit at all seriously. In all honesty, I still haven’t managed it. Quite how you did with a 14 month old nearby is astonishing. 18 minutes of undivided attention? Two minutes together would be fabulous. I was pleasantly surprised how many readers recognized the Kate Bush reference. Nice touch. I can’t think of her without a very old episode of the “The Bill” springing to mind that may have featured Running Up That Hill.

    • rachel

      I think he had a slightly dangerous toy in hand. His Dad was on hand too, which helped. I’ve had a good run with risotto lately then the day after writing this: a puddle with rice. V upsetting. Ok lets talk about walking and teething! Actually lets not. love to you all x

  25. kid

    i made this two nights ago, all for myself. the milk is really legible in the final product, and the extra rings of squash not to be missed. thank you for such an inspiration! ps i too dabbled with sage, just some dried stuff, tossed in with the onions just before the rice. the sage and nutmeg together were almost as decadent as the layers of dairy.

    • rachel

      I always wonder if anyone will actually make anything I write about! And if they do, will it work? Anyway you did, it did and you liked it – I am so (really so so) happy. The sage sounds ace, will try. I have also thought about crispy deep fried sage leaves on top x

  26. The spoon with the risotto clinging to it…

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