Last week we had one of the worst meals that we have ever cooked. Pumpkin risotto is one of our favourites so when we had a really disappointing one that came in a package, celebrating national vegetarian week, I knew I would have to set things right by making one from scratch. That is exactly what I did today. I wouldn't normally go into as much detail as I am going to but the simplicity of a good risotto needs explaining.
I started by roasting half a butternut squash with a little olive oil, marjoram, salt and pepper for around forty minutes. I also put some peeled garlic cloves in a puddle of olive oil in the squash's seed cavity. Once cooked, the flesh was scooped out of the skin and roughly chopped. The garlic infused olive oil was poured into my favourite risotto pan* and a finely chopped onion was added to soften.
After a couple of minutes of gently frying the onion I added some arborio rice and cooked that until all of the grains had been coated in the olive oil and had started to become translucent around the edges. Next I added a glass of white wine and let that boil until it had reduced by half, before adding the first ladle of stock. I happened to have some chicken stock in the freezer but you can use whatever stock you have to hand, for this risotto I'd go with either chicken or vegetable.
Once the first ladle of stock had been absorbed by the rice I added the cooked flesh from the butternut squash and more stock. I then kept adding the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring all the time and waiting until the last lot of liquid had been absorbed by the rice before adding the next ladle full. Whilst cooking the risotto, the squash broke down so that the flavour was through the entire dish. During the cooking process I also added lemon thyme, the garlic that had been roasted with the squash and salt and pepper.
Once all of the stock had been added and the rice was cooked, I added a couple of knobs of butter and a handful of parmesan cheese, turned off the heat, put the lid on the pan and left it alone for five minutes. This last step has turned into a ritual. After standing at the hob stirring constantly for twenty minutes or so it can feel like your arm is going to fall off. The rest is really for the butter and cheese to mingle with the rest of the risotto but it's also a good chance for a welcome glass of wine and a brief sit down. That five minutes was the same amount of time that it took to cook the packet risotto that left me feeling so cheated. I took the opportunity to toast some pumpkin seeds and lay the table before serving.
This was as far from the last risotto as it could have been. The rice, while cooked through, still had bite. The sauce was creamy and oozing. The seasoning was perfect and the individual flavours of the butternut squash, lemon thyme and garlic all shone. The addition of pumpkin oil gave an additional background nuttiness, while toasted pumpkin seeds gave an extra texture.
I had already boycotted restaurant risottos after too many disappointing offerings. I'll now be extending that boycott to include shop bought risottos too. Especially when, with not much effort, meals as fantastic as tonight's pumpkin risotto can be made.
*we all have a favourite risotto pan right?