Pea and Pumpkin Risotto

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This is simple and gratifying. Peas and pumpkin have a special affinity. You can use chicken stock, and I do quite often; however, it is easier to boil the pumpkin in water and keep that to cook the risotto in. As with nearly all risottos the last lot of ingredients are added already cooked, and are simply reheated. Don’t worry about using fresh peas. If they are not young and fresh, frozen peas are a good substitute, as I have said before. Conventional wisdom says to use a high-sided saucepan when making risotto. However, I like to use a frying pan to cook out the rice. Armando Percuoco from Buon Ricordo restaurant first showed me this method and, from that time onwards, I have always used it. I think it is because the rice is less likely to sink to the bottom and stick, while the top goes dry. Anyway it works for me, so try it, if you don’t like it, simple, go back to the old way and follow the rest of the recipe.

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Ingredients

  • 325 g (11½ oz/ cups) arborio rice
  • 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) butternut pumpkin (squash), peeled, seeded and cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) dice
  • 150 g ( oz/1 cup) fresh or frozen peas
  • 1.25 litres (44 fl oz/5 cups) pumpkin stock (see method) or chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • sea salt
  • 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) dry white wine
  • 25 g (1 oz/¼ cup) grated Parmesan, plus extra, to serve
  • 60 g ( oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • freshly ground pepper

Method

Put 1.75–2 litres (61–70 fl oz/7–8 cups) slightly salted water in a saucepan and add the pumpkin. Simmer for 10–15 minutes, or until just soft. Drain and reserve the water. (You should have about 1.25 litres (44 fl oz/5 cups) pumpkin-flavoured water to use as stock.) Set the cooked pumpkin aside.

Cook the peas in plenty of boiling salted water. If using fresh peas, cook for about 3 minutes; if using frozen, remove as soon as they rise to the surface. Refresh the peas in iced water and set aside.

Put the pumpkin or chicken stock in a saucepan on the back of the stove and keep warm. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan. Add the onion, garlic and a little sea salt and sweat over low heat until soft. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until the starch starts to come out of the rice. The rice will start to stick and become opaque. Add the wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until the wine is completely absorbed. Add enough stock to cover the rice and simmer slowly, stirring occasionally. As the rice absorbs the stock, add more to keep it moist, but don’t drown the rice. If you do, the risotto will lose some of its unctuous quality, but if it is too dry it will stick and retard the creaminess of the finished dish. It is important to continue stirring at this early stage or the rice will sink to the bottom and stick. After 15–18 minutes most of the stock should be used and the rice tender. At this point, add the reserved pumpkin and peas, along with the cheese, butter and any remaining stock. Cover, remove from the heat and rest for 2 minutes.

Remove the lid, stir in the parsley and check the seasoning. Spoon into four bowls and sprinkle with extra Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Variations

    Using this same formula, you can cook a variety of yummy risottos, just change the pumpkin and peas as the main players and use chicken stock. Below are a few classic flavour combinations. Remember, in the most part, you would cook whatever needs cooking beforehand and simply add to the risotto at the end, at room temperature or warm, to heat up before serving.

  • Try pan-frying field mushrooms and then slicing them up; a little garlic during cooking helps bring out the flavour. You can add any type of mushroom you like and even add some dehydrated ones for a really big flavour. You can also grate some pecorino over instead of Parmesan, or use a combination; if you want some greens add cooked English spinach or peas.
  • Pork seems to work well in this dish: fold through sliced ham or prosciutto at the end, or add pancetta at the start with the onion. Cooked sausage also goes well but make sure it’s a pure pork style with good texture and flavour. Pan-fry or grill (broil) them, then slice. Add at the end with some fresh herbs.
  • Of course, all manner of vegetables work well... sliced cooked green beans, spinach, nettle, radicchio that has been grilled (broiled), stewed red or yellow capsicums (peppers), braised red or green cabbage... the list goes on. (See for a detailed explanation of stewing and braising.)

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