EDISON, NJ - As everyone starts thinking about pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving next week, you may find yourself with some leftover pumpkin. Instead of using it to make another dessert, why not try using pumpkin in a savory dish? I chose risotto but you can certainly adapt this basic recipe and use pasta or any other grain you prefer or have on hand. If you have a different green on hand, you can certainly substitute it for the kale as well. I like kale with this dish because it tends to hold its color and texture pretty well over time. However, any green or herb would work well.
There are a number of different ways to prepare fresh pumpkin. I chose to roast it, allow it to cool and then scrape out the flesh. From there I seasoned it simply and pureed it. As an aside, I use this method for making pumpkin pie as well.
The real challenge with this recipe is coaxing the pumpkin flavor out without overpowering the risotto with a lot of spice thereby losing all the subtle flavors of the pumpkin, kale, and risotto. I use a homemade vegetable broth and I think that’s a key. However if you are not inclined to make your own, you can certainly use a canned/boxed broth or simply use water.
This dish makes a filling vegetarian main course for four or a great starter course that would easily serve six.
1 Medium sized pumpkin (5-10 lbs.)
Up to 3 Quarts of vegetable broth
1.5 Cups Risotto Rice (Arborio Rice)
1 Medium onion, small dice
3 Medium shallots, small dice
4 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 to 2 Bunches Kale (I used Tuscan kale)
4 or 5 Fresh sage leaves
½ Teaspoon Cinnamon
½ Teaspoon Nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
2-3 Large lemons
1 Large glass of water
Red Pepper Flakes
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Fresh bread crumbs, semi-coarse for texture
Make the Pumpkin Puree:
This can be done a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator until time to use.
· Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
· Prepare the pumpkin for roasting by cutting off the top. Scoop out the seeds, etc. leaving only the pulp. Cut the pumpkin into four to six pieces (depending on the size of the pumpkin). Then drizzle olive oil and a bit of salt over both sides of the pumpkin. Place in roasting pan and roast for about 45 minutes.
· After 45 minutes, check the pumpkin for doneness by placing a fork in the flesh. If the pumpkin easily comes apart, remove from the oven and set aside. If not, roast another 15 minutes, check again and continue until you reach the point where it does come apart easily.
· Allow pumpkin to cool.
· In the meantime, gather a blender or food processor, a very large mixing bowl, lemons, a large glass of water, salt, and red pepper flakes.
· Once the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, remove the pumpkin flesh from the skin. Working in small batches, place some of the pumpkin flesh in blender or food processor. Add about ¼ Cup (doesn’t need to be exact) of water and a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Puree until smooth. You may need to add more water, a little at a time to achieve a completely smooth puree.
· Once all the pumpkin is processed in this way, squeeze juice of 1 lemon over the pumpkin puree. Add salt and a drizzle of olive oil and mix to combine.
· Taste puree and adjust seasoning to taste. It should taste of pumpkin but will seem pretty plain at this point.
· Set aside to make the risotto or refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the risotto:
· Heat the 3 quarts of vegetable broth until just short of a boil and then reduce heat to simmer.
· In the meantime, dice the onion and shallots into a small dice and then mince the garlic. Measure out the risotto rice and have the cinnamon and nutmeg handy as well. (All the ingredients should be prepared and gathered before you start as this will go very quickly).
· Chop the kale into small ribbons. If you use leafy kale instead of Tuscan kale, remove the ribs from the leaves and then chop into ribbons.
· Chop the sage leaves coarsely
· In a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan, heat the pan over medium heat for a couple minutes. Add enough olive oil into the pan to cover. Add the sage leaves, a pinch of salt, and a dash of red pepper flakes. Stir for a minute or so and then added diced onion and shallots.
· Stir frequently to avoid burning. Cook mixture for about five minutes and then add the minced garlic. Cook another minute.
· Add rice to the pan. Cook the rice for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly to avoid burning it.
· Using a ladle, place two scoops of warm vegetable broth to the pan. Add more if the rice isn’t covered. Add enough until just covered. Stir frequently. When the rice thickens to the point where you start to feel some resistance to the spoon, add a couple more ladles of broth. Continue this process for about 20-25 minutes.
· At that point, taste the risotto and it should be just undercooked. Add the pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, a pinch more salt, and another ladle or two of broth. Stir to combine. If the rice mixture is very thick, add more broth until it becomes easy to stir again.
· Continue cooking until rice tastes al dente. At that point, add the kale and stir to incorporate. Cook another minute until the kale is just wilted. Remove from heat. If the risotto is too thick, stir in a touch more broth, a little at a time until the risotto becomes thick while still being able to stir it.
· Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more salt, ground black pepper, and/or red pepper flakes. Finish the dish by adding the juice of the remaining lemons to the risotto.
Spoon a portion of the risotto into a bowl then grate a touch of nutmeg over the top of the entire dish. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil over the top and then sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top of everything. Serve immediately while hot.
If you don’t serve the risotto immediately, the risotto will thicken and seize up. If that happens, simply add more warm broth, stir to combine and then taste and readjust seasoning levels.
Craig Thiebaud is a Diplomat of Classic Culinary Arts at the International Culinary Center (formerly The French Culinary Institute) located in SOHO in New York City. After extensive training in the Art of French cooking and professional food preparation in general, he brings his knowledge of food and passion for cooking to us by sharing culinary techniques and creating recipes that mainly use local, seasonal ingredients and can be easily recreated in the home kitchen. Good, wholesome meals for the family can be created quickly with planning, using the best techniques with the best ingredients that are both affordable and available. Let's get back into the kitchen together!