Risotto is comfort food. Yes, you can make “healthy” versions of it as I did when I developed my Tuscan Kale Risotto earlier this summer. However, risotto is best prepared when it can just be, let its warm, sensuous, snuggling personality reach out, when it can comfort the soul and light a warm fire in the hearth of your stomach.
At this point in the year, I’ve used up most of my CSA stores, but a few items still remain from CSA boxes, including a few squash which I didn’t need to be in a rush to use, so my CSA Challenge continues. One of the squash that was still waiting for me was a kabacha, also known as “Japanese pumpkin.” It also goes by the name my CSA farmer at Waratah Downs Farm used: sweet mama. What is distinct about this squash is that while it is still sweet like a butternut, it is drier like a buttercup. The advantage to a squash like this is that it can be used in many dishes to infuse that squash/pumpkin flavour without the challenge of what to do with the excess water that some other squash bring. This is the primary problem and challenge with a North American pumpkin in cooking.
Having said all that, I still wanted to ensure a deep, nutty, and sweet flavour to the squash, so I chose to roast it on my barbecue to similarly remove as much moisture from the squash as possible. The process to roasting the squash on the bbq is simple and can be done well in advance of cooking, even a day or two before, so, with some planning, this doesn’t add any time to your prep or cooking. The further advantage of this method is that as you will see from the photo below, the skin can literally be peeled off with your fingers. The only further cooking tip to preparing this squash is that I used a ricer to ‘mash’ the squash. I did this because I wasn’t looking for a puree and wanted the squash to have a bit of texture going into the risotto. However, if you don’t have a ricer, use a potato masher and if you don’t have this, well, I guess you’ll have to resort to your food processor with a slightly different result.
Finally, the cooking tips to making risotto are functionally always the same (I know, I should just post a “base recipe” for it and refer back to it), but the technique I employ is to use minimal stirring and stirring only when adding half-cup ladles of stock as required; this lets the quintessential starches naturally cook out of this unique short-grained rice which has been perfectly developed in partnership with this dish, so please ensure you have purchased a “superfina” arborio rice.
Finally, there are three other essential ingredients to making this dish sing. Most importantly, as with all risotto recipes, is using a premium and ideally a homemade chicken stock. Next, the warmth of this dish is elevated with the addition of rum near the end of the cooking process. And finally, to pull it all together is a pinch (literally and not more) of ground mace — the mace adds a certain a certain je nais se quoi that few will guess or even notice. Together, these ingredients with the squash and rice make for a quintessentially fall comfort dish. Enjoy.
Prep time: 15 minutes (plus 60 minutes to roast squash
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes (plus 60 minutes to roast squash)
Rum-Kabocha (Pumpkin) Risotto
- 1 kabacha squash, roasted, peeled, and riced
→ you will need 2-cups of riced squash
- 1½ cups arborio rice
- 2 ounces (55 grams) of pancetta, diced
→ order from butcher the thickness of ‘bacon’
- 1/2 cup onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1½-2 litres chicken stock
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/3 cup añejo (“aged”) rum
- salt and pepper to taste
- pinch of ground mace
- Preheat your oven or barbecue to 375-400ºF. Meanwhile, slice the squash in half (from top to bottom) and with a spoon, scoop out the seeds and ‘guts’ of the squash. Once the barbecue or oven is ready, place the kabacha squash cut-side down and grill for 15 minutes. Turn squash and place back and grill for 15 minutes more. Turn squash onto side and grill 15 minutes more. Repeat once more by turning onto other side for a final 15 minutes. (In sum: every 15 minutes turn squash onto another side). When squash is soft to touch (i.e. when skin gives when pressed with finger). Remove from heat and let cool completely.
- Once cool, slice off any ‘dried’ or burnt bits of flesh and remove the skin. You should e able to do this with your fingers with the assistance of a knife if necessary.
- Using a ricer (or potato masher or, as a last resort, food processor) rice (mash) the squash and set aside.
- Meanwhile heat your chicken stock in a pot and keep on low for duration of cooking. (Cold stock will slow the process.)
→ You will need roughly 6 cups of stock, but depending on your particular stove and temperature setting, you may use more.
- Dice your pancetta and onion and mince the garlic. In a heavy-bottomed pan, add oil and heat over medium heat. Add the pancetta and fry for about 30 seconds. Add the onions and continue to saute for another 2 minutes until onions have softened.
- Add butter and once melted add rice and garlic and cook for about a minute until the rice becomes slightly translucent and you can see the ‘pearl’ inside the rice.
- Add a half-cup of stock to the pan and deglaze it, scraping the bottom to remove any of the ‘browning.’ Remember: deglazing = flavour.
- Add another half-cup of stock, stir, and then add 1-cup of squash and stir it into risotto. Add another ladle of stock, reduce temperature to medium-low.
- Continue cooking and adding a ladle of stock each time it has evaporated and before the rice burns or sticks to the bottom. Carefully “stir” the rice each time by using the spatula to move the rice back and forth, releasing it, but not breaking it. After about 10 minutes, add the second cup of squash to the risotto and stir it in as well.
- Continue cooking for another 20-30 minutes, adding stock every 2-5 minutes as it gets used up. At the same time, turn your oven to 150ºF and place oven-proof bowls or plates in the oven to warm.
- After 20 minutes, taste the rice for seasoning at this point and add salt and pepper to taste — don’t add too much salt because you’ll be adding cheese in a few minutes as well. As well, taste for “doneness” in the rice. The final result should be al dente, but not crunchy and certainly not mushy. The rice should be cooked but still have shape, body, and substance. Here’s the key: 5 minutes before it is done, add 1/3 cup of rum and a slight pinch of mace and stir it in. Add a final ladle of stock if necessary. You don’t want the risotto to be dry but it shouldn’t be soupy either.
- Taste for doneness again and, if ready, stir in 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- Serve immediately on warm plates and garnish with freshly grated parmesan.
Wine Pairing: A slightly sweet white wine or, if you’re feeling adventurous, I paired it with an exceptional Shiraz-Viognier from Yalumba Winery in Australia. Perhaps counter intuitive, but this red worked brilliantly.