Wicker Park Pumpkin Risotto

Happy New Decade, dearest Happelsauce readers!! It’s twelve days in and I’m finally getting around to writing. Jeeez. Sorry about that. Aside from Pom, I’m pretty sure none of you were holding your breath for my next posting but please accept my apology anyway.

How’s this? New Year’s Resolution #2: I will get Happelsaucey at least once a week. (New Year’s Resolution #1 is to not indulge in eating seconds, because I need to face the truth, food doesn’t taste nearly as good the second time around. I don’t need seconds. Might be my toughest resolution to date. Seriously. My love for food runs deep.)

Speaking of food and rules, Michael Pollan recently came out with a new book titled Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. Last Friday, The New York Times’ Well blog posted an interview with Pollan about his new book. The last question posed was, “Did you learn anything new yourself from the rules?” Pollan addressed the psychology of food . “You can have intense food experience with less food. Europeans have intense food experiences but eat less food.” I like that quote. So true. It sums up my New Year’s Resolution #1 perfectly. And come to think of it, my most treasured food memories from 2009 come from my time spent in Spain and France. Because the food was freshsimpleclean and the flavors indelible – Spanish tapas (olives, jamon and queso), farm fresh chevre with bread and salad, avocado toast drizzled with olive oil and salt. Mmm. Mmm. Mmmmm.

So, seconds schmeconds! I’ll take good company around the dinner table any day over an extra helping of pasta. After all, good food brings people together. It’s a beautiful thing. On that note, I’d like to share a recipe with you. I first attempted risotto a few months ago on a chilly Halloween night in Chicago. So yes, it’s true that this recipe isn’t exactly new, but it’s really good. And ever since I conquered this pumpkin risotto a few months ago, I’ve been cooking a variety of risotto recipes ever since. I hope you will too.

It’s only fair to set the opening scene from my weekend in Chicago. Picture Wicker Park, Chicago in late October. Brownstones, mushy leaves, gray skies and torrential rain.  I was visiting my dear friends Rebekah and Katie. I had flown in the day before Halloween and taken the train from O’Hare into the city. I was wheeling my bag down the sidewalk, soaked to the bone, attempting to avoid puddles the size of kiddie pools. Rebekah met me a block from the train, soaked, and pushing her stroller with brand new baby Charlie bundled inside. It was a wet and wonderful welcome I won’t soon forget. It’s simultaneously remarkable and utterly mind-boggling to see my friends with their babies. My friends are having babies. And the babies look like miniature versions of my friends.  I guess they are miniature versions of my friends.

Anyway, I digress. I had read an Op-Ed article titled “Pumpkin Eaters” a few days before my visit and was charmed by Peter Mayle’s Pumpkin Risotto recipe at the bottom of the page. Actually, it’s less a recipe than an explanation of how to prepare the pumpkin. I was intrigued. Rebekah, Pat, Katie and I drank Dark ‘n Stormies while cutting the flesh of fresh sugar pumpkins into chunks, stirring the rice and holding Baby Charlie (soo chic and appropriately dressed in her pumpkin snuggly). The entire risotto experience which I feared might turn daunting and disasterly, was refreshingly breezy and enjoyable. As long as you’re diligent about stirring the rice and allowing time for the hot broth to soak in before adding another cup, risotto is pretty simple. It’s a hearty dish without being heavy and tastes creamy without containing a drop of cream. Risotto sticks to your ribs in the best way possible. It’s the perfect winter dish. Pair it with mixed greens or fennel and apple salad. I promise you’ll leave the table sat-is-fied.

Pumpkin Risotto

Serves 6

Basic Risotto

1 quart chicken broth

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 cups arborio rice

1 cup dry white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Plus Pumpkin

2 small fresh sugar pumpkins (Or try substituting butternut squash or another winter squash like hubbard, red kuri or kabocha.)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh marjoram

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

  • Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
  • For the pumpkin: After removing seeds and fiber, cut the flesh into chunks, leaving the skin still attached. With your hands, mix the chunks in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh marjoram and dried oregano. Lay the chunks on a baking tray, skin side down, and put them in the oven. When the chunks of pumpkin are soft and the edges are tinged with brown, remove from the oven and allow to cool, scrape the flesh from the skin and shred with a fork into a bowl.

  • Heat the broth in a pan and keep it warm.
  • In a separate pan heat the olive oil and butter, add the onions and garlic and cook very slowly for about 15 minutes without browning. When onions and garlic have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat.
  • The rice will now begin to lightly fry, so keep stirring it. After a minute it will look slightly translucent. Add the wine and keep stirring — it will smell goooood.

  • Once the wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot broth and a good pinch of salt. Turn down the heat to a simmer so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly on the outside. Keep adding ladlefuls of broth, stirring and allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. This will take around 15 minutes. Taste the rice to see if it’s cooked. Keep adding broth until the rice is soft but with a slight bite (al dente, if you will). Don’t forget to check the seasoning carefully. If you run out of broth before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water.
  • Remove from the heat and add the pumpkin, butter and Parmesan. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with more Parmesan. Devour immediately.

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5 thoughts on “Wicker Park Pumpkin Risotto

  1. I made Ina Garten’s butternut squash risotto a few weeks ago for some folks. Virtually the same receipe, and it was bomb. Anyway, you’re right: risotto gets a bad name for being very demanding of your time, but it really is a snap (especially with an open kitchen where you can still chill with the peeps).

  2. We just made this risotto with butternut squash. Fantastic! What a wonderful recipe. We peeled and seeded the squash and cut it into two inch cubes, then roasted it in the super hot oven on a baking sheet for 20-25 minutes, turning every once in a while. The pieces caramelized a bit. Great flavors! We mashed it with a fork before adding to the risotto. Leftovers reheated with splashes of chicken broth the next night were a little mushy. Pile on the Parmesan! We heart Happelsauce. XOXOXOX Pom

  3. Pingback: Pumpkin Spice and All Things Nice « happelsauce

  4. Pingback: Falling for Pumpkin Pie « happelsauce

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