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Halloween Pumpkin Risotto

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Serious gourmet traditional pumpkin risotto from Lombardy (Italy) anybody can cook in under 40 minutes.

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In Europe we celebrate the dead on Halloween, visiting them in their graveyards and honoring their memories. What would they tell us if they could speak? I don't know, but my recollection of speaking with those on the verge of that trip bring up one point : enjoy life while it lasts, it is much shorter than you think and soon you'll be the one they'll come visit on All Saints' Day. What better way to celebrate life and honor the dead than to prepare a delicious traditional Italian dish in their honor?

There are a hundred ways to make pumpkin risotto. This is the traditional Lombard recipe well used in neighboring regions of Northern Italy. It is one of my favorite risotti and anybody can do it in under 40 minutes.

Pumpkin Risotto
Risotto con la zucca [reezawtaw conla tsookah]
As a main course for 2 or a starter for 4
1 glass (1/2 cup) risotto rice
1 small glass white wine
1 medium white onion
50gr butter (4 tbsp)
1 small pumpkin slightly larger than a grapefruit for serving
300gr/1.5 cups pumpkin flesh
4 amaretti (Italian bitter almond dry macaroons)
100gr Parmesan cheese

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With a large knife cleanly cut off the serving pumpkin's top (where the stem is).

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Deseed with a spoon, wash and reserve.

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I recommend you use the flesh from another pumpkin for the risotto itself. Why? First, it is hard to scrape the flesh from inside the serving pumpkin without damaging it, and these nice Halloween pumpkins do not always taste as good as other types.

You can cook the pumpkin flesh in several ways. Either peel and cut in large cubes and cook with a small glass of water in a saucepan until soft. Or cut in large chunks with the peel on and roast in the oven in a dish covered with foil. Finally, you might even cook the peeled and cubed pumpkin in the microwave. Whichever way you use, when the pumpkin is soft and breaks down under your finger, it is cooked.

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Proper risotto requires hot broth/stock. You can't use cold water. If you don't have time or energy to make stock from scratch, heat some water in a small saucepan and add a stock cube, a bay leaf, clove, pepper and a couple vegetables. Here I used an onion and a clove garlic, hardly my best stock ever but still infinitely better than cold water. Set up your work space with a large pot on a hot burner and two side pots with the stock and pumpkin flesh. Have a ladle close by.

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Start by melting 1 tbsp butter with a little oil in the large pot. Gently fry the onions. The point is to soften them by evaporating their vegetation water. DO NOT let them become brown.

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As soon as the onions are soft, pour in your rice. Here I used some fancy 'slow food' risotto rice grown by lady monks in Lombardia, but you can use any rice that says 'risotto' on the box.

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Mix the rice with the fat and onions over high heat for about 2 minutes or until every rice grain is coated with butter. Do not be afraid to let the grains toast a little.

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Pour in your glass of wine and turn briskly so that all of the rice will be in contact with the wine. Risotto usually calls for dry white wine but I found this recipe to work best with sweet white wine, which you can then serve in glasses with the risotto.

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When the wine has completely evaporated, add one generous laddle of stock and mix briskly. Do not put more than ONE LADDLEFUL AT A TIME.

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Risotto is a demanding mistress and requires the chef to stand next to the pot for the better part of 20 minutes. Turn the rice every 20 seconds or so in order for the liquid to bathe all of the pot. With the high heat your rice will dry out at the bottom and you'll need to move the rice with a wooden spoon so that the remaining stock on top goes to the bottom. Only when the rice is almost dry (see picture) can you add your next laddleful of stock. Proceed like before for about 10 minutes, adding the stock laddleful by laddleful.

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After about 10 minutes, add the pumpkin flesh to the rice and mix. Continue to cook as before with another laddleful of stock, making sure the risotto never sticks.

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This is the secret ingredient that makes this dish such an aphrodisiac extravagance. It is not of my invention but a traditional ingredient in risotto con la zucca : tiny amaretti [ahmahraytee], bittersweet almond macaroons made from sugar, bitter almonds, egg whites and flour. I wouldn't cook this dish without amaretti and you need to get the right sort - dry amaretti with no extra flavoring. They store well and don't be afraid to buy too many. Make sure you don't get the amaretti teneri - these are soft. The ones you need are as hard as dry wood but they crumble easily.

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Crumble your amaretti in a mortar or with a large knife or rolling pin. Be sure to leave larger crumbs to add interest to the dish. I used to remove the large sugar crystals on the surface but not anymore - this is a sweet savory dish after all.

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Add the amaretti crumbles to the risotto and mix in. Continue to cook, tasting every 30 seconds now, until they rice is almost done but still about 1 minute away from having just enough bite but not too much. Don't be afraid if it's your first risotto, only a seasoned risotto fiend will notice if you have overcooked it slightly. But try to go for this bite in the rice - risotto al dente.

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Now for the last stage - the mantecatura. We will emulsify a number of tasty fats in the rice to finish its seasoning. Do as I say and you will be fine. First remove the pot from the heat and let it rest for 1 minute covered. If you don't do this the butter will break down due to the high heat. Then cut the rest of your butter in small teaspoon-sized chunks and add them to the rice. Vigorously mix in the butter. You need to avoid the butter melting before it's mixed in. Use quality unsalted butter for this.

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Grate the best Parmesan you can find and add it to the risotto. Mix it in. The best Parmesan there is - but you won't always find it - is the one made from red cows' milk, mucche rosse. I was able to get a piece of it from a slow food initiative at COOP here in Switzerland. Otherwise go for Parmigiano Reggiano, made to much higher standards than the Padano. In any case do not buy pregrated cheese.

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Heat your serving pumpkins shells by filling them with the remaining broth. Empty the broth and fill them with the risotto.

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You can serve one large pumpkin for two if this is for a romantic dinner, with both lovers eating from the same pumpkin. alternatively, you could serve one per guest or a large on from which you'll spoon the risotto onto plates.

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A resounding success! This is the third time I do this recipe this year. Try it, follow my directions and you won't be disappointed or your pumpkin back.


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If you do this recipe at home please let me know how it worked for you by submitting a comment or send me a picture if you can. Thanks!



33 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by Lyra
This sounds great. I may have to make this as my first real risotto...
  • #2
  • Comment by ariun
*drool* Looks toothsome!! What kind of pumpkin do you recommend for this? By the way, lady monks=nuns.
  • #3
  • Comment by Ivonne
Bravo! I just stumbled upon your blog today as I was looking up Zaletti on-line. You have a wonderful site.
  • #4
  • Comment by Chris
Dear FX,I tried this tonight and it's the best risotto I've ever tasted!  Thanks so much!  I departed from the recipe by using a rich homemade turkey stock.  I could not really tell what your preferred method is for cooking the pumpkin.  I could infer from the pictures but it was unclear.  At any rate, thanks again.  Love your site.
  • #5
  • Answered by fx
Chris I am so glad the recipe worked for you! You are right, I had forgotten to include directions to cook the pumpkin flesh and now added this:

You can cook the pumpkin flesh in several ways. Either peel and cut in large cubes and cook with a small glass of water in a saucepan until soft. Or cut in large chunks with the peel on and roast in the oven in a dish covered with foil. Finally, you might even cook the peeled and cubed pumpkin in the microwave. Whichever way you use, when the pumpkin is soft and breaks down under your finger, it is cooked.
  • #6
  • Comment by bill
I just made this - I overcooked the rice a little, but it was still spectacular. Thanks for posting this recipe.
  • #7
  • Comment by JamesCooks
Nice. Keep up the good work.
An excellent recipe.I am always amazed at how many ways risotto can be made. I think I will add this to one of my cuisines for catering for Personal Chef dinners only for not more then 4 people. I found a 4-6 lb pumpkin is more then enough for this recipe. I also added one thing, try it and tell me what you think. I melted two tsp of light brown sugar, pinch of cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon of butter. After melted, let set for 2 minutes, then with a brush, glaze from the top edge of the pumpkin, down to approximately 1/2 inch inside. Let it set for a couple of minutes before finishing adding the rest of the risotto filling into the pumpkin. It added a nice touch.  
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
Paul thanks for visiting! You are right that cooking risotto for more than 4 people in a professional setting would be very brave. Hard to keep it al dente for long! I think your idea of the sugar and cinammon on the inside of the pumpkin is very good and definitely in the dish's spirit.
I have never made risotto with pumpkin before so I am looking forward to making this recipe.  It sounds delicious!

Great picture on TasteSpotting!
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
Liliana, thanks for visiting and don't forget the amarettis!
  • #12
  • Comment by Eric
Comme d'habitude tu te surpasses avec tes photos et si un jour tu passes a Bangkok, viens me voir.....Eric (bangkok)
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
Salut Eric, merci pour ta visite et c'est avec plaisir que je viendrais te rendre visite dans ton restaurant à Bangkok si je visite ce merveilleux pays un jour.
  • #14
  • Comment by fleur
I made this recipe today for fathers day and it was a hit.. Instead of using the amaretti I added a tablespoon of brown sugar and it worked very nicely. I also roasted the pumpkin and it made it that little bit sweeter. There was one area that was a bit confusing in the recipe and that was how much vegetable stock was needed.  I doubled the recipe as it was for 4 people (with salad) and used about 1 litre of stock and the consistency was perfect.
Thanks for such a great recipe - I'll definitely make it again!
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
Fleur, thanks for trying this on such an important day and glad it worked! Roasting the pumpkin is a great idea, but you really should try it with amaretti, if you can't find any locally just make them yourself by grinding apricot pits with sugar and then mixing with a little flour and beaten egg whites. The touch of sweet bitterness really brings it to the next level - you have to believe me. As for the stock, it all depends on your rice and the size of your pan, I think it's safe to make a liter/quart and then add a little water to the stock pot if it's too short.
  • #16
  • Comment by Elizabeth
Hello   I made this recipe tonight (served it with Osso Buco)....All cooks make their own adjustments.  I had canned pumpkin in the pantry so I used that and had no amaretto cookies (which is actually unusual in this house!) but I added nutmeg. (also a bit more parmesean reggiano)  It was yummy.  We had a dish similiar in Verona where they used a Sangiovese wine.  What do you think?  I am going to try that next.   Nice recipe and website.   
  • #17
  • Answered by fx
Elizabeth, this must have been great with ossobuco! I did many pumpkin risotti with my ossibuchi, some with a little tomato purée and rosemary, so yes, I think your version is perfectly valid. But you owe it to yourself to try it with amaretti and serve it as a first course, it is just out of this world!
  • #18
  • Comment by Joe
Looks awesome.  I love pumpkin.  We are all about the pumpkin at our restaurant right now!!
  • #19
  • Answered by fx
Joe, thanks for visiting and let me know if you try this. Don't forget to get amaretti (no, really!).
  • #20
  • Comment by Ken
Wow, Looks Great !
I can already taste it with my eyes . lol
Listen you forgot to mention which Pumpkin you would recommend.  
  • #21
  • Answered by fx
Ken, unfortunately I am not as proficient with pumpkin types as I ought to be and never really worked out which types to recommend for a particular dish. When I found one that works great for me, often my readers cannot find the same in their place. But I promise to work on this!
  • #22
  • Comment by barky
The secret for cooking risotto in large quantities is to take it almost to al dente, then take it off the heat, spread it on cookie sheets in a thin layer so it will cool quickly. The few minutes of heat remaining in the rice will allow it to cook to al dente. When it has stopped steaming, put in the fridge.  When totally cooled, with a rubber scrapper, put the risotto into a storage container.  This can be done a few days ahead.  To serve, heat a little stock, wine, a mix of the two or even a touch of water in a sauce pan, add the rice,stirring until it is hot, then add in the butter and Parmesan.
  • FX's answer→ Barky, this sounds like a reasonable restaurant shortcut for risotto. I am always wary of restaurants where the off-the-menu risotto arrives within 5 minutes, but I must confess I have seen risotto cooked on order only a handful of times in restaurants.

  • #24
  • Comment by Stephan
I am a little late but this is the first review of three dishes I prepared during the week of Halloween. I like risotto and I have to admit that the sweetness of the pumpkin with the creamy taste of the risotto was very tempting. I started to cook pumpkin (variety used for pumpkin pie) in a little bit of water (next time I will try to roast pumpkin in the oven to see if I can get more flavor out of the pumpkin) and then started to follow the recipe. What I really love with your website is the quality obviously of the pictures and the way it is presented step by step. Since I am very visual as far as picking recipes, your website is very helpful for me. Anyway, I skipped the part with the dry amaretti since I was not able to find some. Nevertheless, the dish was for me and my wife spectacular and I will add it definitively to my favorite list of recipes.

Thank you for sharing with us your expertise and your passion for cooking.

Stephan.
  • FX's answer→ Stephan, glad you liked the recipe! You should really, definitely find yourself some amaretti or at least some bitter almond cookies and grate some on top, it really brings the dish to an altogether higher level. Heavenly.

  • #26
  • Comment by Jeremy
Thank you for publishing this terrific pumpkin risotto recipe.  I've tried some pumpkin risotto recipes in the past but they always came out kind of bland.  Yours was the first website I've seen that actually explains how to REALLY cook risotto and why each step is needed.  Your thorough desriptions and professional photography made it easy for me to follow.  I had to triple the recipe to make enough for a party of several adults and children, but it went pretty much as you described.  It is certainly a lot of work, and you can't turn your back on it for very long before you need to feed it more stock.  Keeping the stock simmering close at hand was an enormous help.  I used a sweet riesling dessert wine, vegetable broth, and I even added the "secret" ingredient, amaretti cookies, and all I can say is WOW!  Everyone loved the dish, it was the hit of the party.  I'm only sorry that there's none leftover for me to eat for lunch this week at work.
  • FX's answer→ Jeremy, I am so glad to hear you had a successful risotto and were able to include all of the ingredients, including the amaretti. They really bring that dish to another level, don't they? And you seem to have followed the instructions to the letter - now you can cook any risotto, and even start devising your own recipes. As long as you keep the basics in check, it will always work.

  • #28
  • Comment by Damiano
Splendido articolo, se ti piace la zucca non puoi mancare di venire a Mantova e assaggiare i tortelli di zucca.
  • FX's answer→ Si che sono venuto a Cremona per la stessa cosa, che buoni sono questi ravioli. Vedi il mio articolo #137, Heaven is a plate of tortellini, sui tortelli alla Zucca!

  • #30
  • Comment by DenzelWP
Dear Friends, HAPPY HALLOWEEN! A little late..
  • #31
  • Comment by Jennie Erin
This was fantastic. I did it by the letter, the amaretti were a yummy addition and it was as rich and tasty as it looked in your photos. My only issue/question is, was I supposed to really cook down the pumpkin before putting it in the risotto? Because there was a bit of stringiness in the pumpkin flesh that didn't affect the taste much but compromised the texture. Does cooking the pumpkin more get rid of that? In the US there's canned pumpkin, very cooked-down, that might have worked well. Here in Germany there doesn't seem to be any canned pumpkin in the supermarket, so....
I just made this for some friends. I really liked it. I would love to try it with fresher pumpkin. I think I added too many amaretti (mine were mini so I had to estimate) and it tasted overly almondy. I want to try again with better amounts. Thanks for posting this it is gorgeous to look at each step individually.
  • #33
  • Comment by Elizabeth
Your pumpkin risotto sounds amazing! I would love to make it for Thanksgiving this year! Only 1 problem...I have never made a risotto in my life & I need to know roughly how much stock will be needed. I'm really good at winging it & rarely follow a recipie to the T, but a ballpark idea would be really nice :)

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