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A scarily good risotto

Autumn = halloween = pumpkins = this week’s recipe for delica pumpkin and goat's cheese risotto.

This is the food equivalent of sipping hot chocolate in a radox lavender bath infused with essential oils while Stephen Fry sits on the toilet reading you Harry Potter. Dreamy.

A loyal EMW reader (yep, they do exist) suggested this risotto. It's deliciously warming, autumnal, and pretty easy to bring together.

This week’s album: 
Ágætis byrjun by Sigur Rós

A recent discovery after a good friend sent me a couple of tracks. I knew the band’s popular ‘Hoppipolla’ track which was used in a Planet Earth advert, but had never explored beyond that. Sigur Rós’ first album only sold 300 copies in Iceland but, thankfully, they weren’t dismayed. Before releasing this one the lead singer, Jónsi Birgisson, wrote: “We are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music.” EMW adopts the same approach to food-music-comedy newsletters.

Darling delica

IMO - no other pumpkin comes close to how great delica pumpkins are. They’re the Pink Lady apple of the pumpkin world. You know there are other options but you also know that said-options just lead to heartbreak and regret.

We’ve used this pumpkin before for a soup and a salad, and now we’re going to make an incredible risotto.

Delica pumpkins have a lovely intense flavour and sweetness to them. This is because after they’re harvested they’re left to dry in stores heated by wood-fired stoves. The stoves dry the pumpkins out, removing their natural water content. This concentrates their flavour and increases their sweetness.

This makes them an elite pumpkin to eat, which also means they’re more expensive due to the additional labour and time involved. 

The risotto itself is simple to make. We’ll create a pumpkin purée which we’ll add-in towards the end of cooking to retain its vibrancy. Another key ingredient for this dish is a good-quality stock (chicken or vegetable). We’ll then finish everything with butter and parmesan, as we’ve done before with another risotto, and finally top things off with goat’s cheese.

If you can’t find a Delica then a decent butternut squash would be good, or other pumpkins grown for consumption rather than carving (i.e. probs not one sitting by the entrance to your local Tesco Express).
What you need

The below serves 4. It takes 20 mins to prep and 25 mins to cook.

4 tbsps olive oil
30g butter
2 shallots
(finely sliced)
500g or ½ Delica pumpkin (peeled, seeds removed, diced)
350g risotto rice
75ml white wine
1l vegetable/chicken stock
¼ lemon
(juice only)
50g parmesan (grated)
30g cold butter (diced)
15g parsley leaves (roughly chopped)
120g goat’s cheese
Sea salt & black pepper

Ready, steady, cook

1. Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan onto a medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and first lot of butter. Once the butter has melted, add the shallots along with a pinch of salt. Sweat them for about 8-10 mins or until soft and translucent (you don’t want them to colour).

2. Add in the diced pumpkin and another pinch of salt. Sauté on a medium heat for a few minutes, then cook with a lid for 20-25 mins on a low heat, stirring regularly, until it forms a rough purée. As you stir, keep mashing the pumpkin to help it break down.

Note: adding the salt will help draw out the natural water content of the pumpkin and allowing the pumpkin to cook very slowly, in its own juices rather than adding water, will help to intensify the pumpkin flavour. The aim is to completely soften the pumpkin without caramelising it.

If the pumpkin starts to catch on the bottom of the saucepan then add a couple of tablespoons of water and stir. Once it’s completely soft, transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. Set aside. Depending on the water content of your pumpkin (and the strength of your blender) you may need to add a little water to blend it.

3. While the pumpkin cooks, add your stock to a pan. Bring to a simmer and then turn down as low as possible. It’s important the stock remains hot throughout the coming steps as it allows the rice to cook evenly.

4. Place a heavy-bottomed pan (for cooking the rice) on a medium heat. Add the rice, cooking for a minute or so until it’s hot to the touch. As we’ve already added olive oil and butter to the purée, we’ll toast the rice ‘dry’.

5. Pour in the wine - use something you’d be happy to drink after - and stir well until it has evaporated. It should come to the boil quickly (taste after 90 seconds or so to see whether the alcohol has burnt off). Now add a generous pinch of sea salt (adding the salt before the wine can hinder how well the wine is absorbed).

6. Once the wine has evaporated, add a ladle of hot stock to the rice and stir regularly. Add just enough to cover the rice. Once the first ladle of stock has been absorbed, add another and repeat the process.

NOTE I: it’s important to add the stock a little at a time so you don’t boil the rice. Our way will ‘agitate’ the rice so it releases its starch. This is what makes for a gorgeous creamy texture at the end. 

NOTE II: scrape down the sides of the pan with your spatula. This ensures all the rice is cooking together and no grain is left behind.

7. Keep stirring as you add the stock and adjust the temperature as needed so that the rice is simmering gently. About 15 mins after adding the first ladle of stock your rice should have a creamy texture and still be al dente. Add the purée and continue to cook for another 3-4 mins, adding a little stock if necessary.

8. Test grains as you go along to see how they change in texture with the cooking. Take a single grain and squeeze it between two fingers. When it’s not cooked you’ll see it break into two white pieces internally. As it cooks more you’ll see three and, eventually, when it’s ready it’ll break into four. Make sure you don’t cook the rice for so long that it loses its bite. 

Check the seasoning levels as you go and add any salt you need (a lot will depend on how much salt is in your original stock and purée).

9. Remove the pan from the heat. The risotto should be fairly liquid at this stage, but the next step will thicken it slightly and bring it together. 

10. Add in the cold diced butter and beat rigorously with a spatula or by tossing the pan. When fully incorporated, add in the grated parmesan and a few twists of freshly ground black pepper. Beat again. It’s important to do this off the heat so that the butter emulsifies into the sauce without splitting. Heating parmesan too much produces a grainy texture. Not good.

11. Cover your pan with a tea towel and allow it to rest for 2 mins. Stir through the chopped parsley. Transfer to warmed plates and top with the goat's cheese. 

Final thought

Quick Italian lesson: risotto should be served all’onda, meaning ‘on the wave’. Your risotto should be wavy, fluid, and basically pourable. It shouldn’t be stodgy, firm, or able to stand up on the plate.

Same time next week.


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