Pumpkin and Pancetta Risotto

Risotto:  it’s a stir thing

Originally appeared in the October 27, 2011 edition of the Southside Times.

Risotto—we’ve talked about it before; and if anything resonates it’s probably this:  It’s not fast food.  Of course, this is far from a bad thing.  The risotto method—which resembles a pilaf technique in the opening steps—utilizes a slow-simmering process to coax starch from the squat-shaped grains of rice.  We’re using Arborio for this pumpkin and pancetta permutation (mainly because of its easy-to-obtain availability), but you can also use carnaroli or vialone nano.

And speaking of availability, when it comes to procuring a pumpkin, this is prime time.  (And here’s a fun autumnal addition:  clean your pumpkin seeds, toast them appropriately, and use them as a garnish.  Just a thought.)  Click here to read more:Watch your heat.  While constantly stirring is a crucial component in this process, it’s also necessary that you’re vigilant about the temperature.  Make sure that you’re not reducing the deliciously viscous concoction to the point where the grains will be undercooked.  There’s an art to eyeball-intuition and incorporation, here.

Remember:  There’s a reason why you don’t see risotto at a typical dinner table—it takes time and finesse.  But after you practice this method a few times, you’ll see it’s a great technique to have under your culinary belt, particularly on a chilly October evening.

Pumpkin and Pancetta Risotto

Serves 4 as main course

  • ½ cup chopped pancetta
  • 20 fluid ounces (or more) chicken stock
  • 1 large shallots, chopped
  • 8 ounces pumpkin flesh, cut into ½ -inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine or vermouth
  • 2 tablespoons mascarpone
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan (divided)
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper

1.  In a medium-sized stockpot over moderate heat, cook pancetta until brown and crisp.  Drain on paper towel and reserve.  Meanwhile, in a separate pot, heat stock to a gently simmer.

2.  In stockpot in which you cooked pancetta (and adding olive oil if needed for extra fat), gently sauté shallots and pumpkin in oil for about five minutes.  Stir in rice and coat thoroughly with rendered fat and oil; cook for two minutes to toast grains.  Pour in wine and cook until reduced slightly.  Pour in one-fourth of the stock and stir.  Gently cook until liquid has been absorbed, then stir in another ladleful of stock.  Continue cooking and stirring, gradually adding stock until rice is just tender and risotto is creamy.  The entire process should take about fifteen minutes.

3.  A few minutes before cooking is complete, stir in reserved pancetta, mascarpone, and half the Parmesan.  Adjust seasonings.  Garnish individual servings with the remaining Parmesan and pancetta.

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