Friday, November 18, 2016

Pumpkin Spice Everything!

When the weather gets a bit cooler, or even when it doesn't, I look forward to the flavors of fall. For some folks, that means pumpkin spice latt├ęs. I enjoy one once in a while, sure, but there are other things to do with pumpkin besides turn it into a sweet treat with cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. (A look at local grocery store shelves says differently, however, what with all the various pumpkin spice granola bars, yogurt, cereal, breakfast bars, pretzels, cookies, and cake. Giant Foods even has a store-branded pumpkin spice gouda cheese. Oh, and dairy butter. WTF?)

Canned pumpkin (which, apparently, in most cases, is actually butternut squash) is available all year long. Still, it seems most appropriate to eat it in the fall and winter. I'm not sure why - the flavor isn't heavy (unless of course you load it up with sweet spices). Why not have pumpkin soup in summer? Canned pumpkin is almost tomato-y in a savory dish, as it's not sweet, yet quite vegetal. In any case, it is fall right now, so this pumpkin risotto is seasonally appropriate. It has a creamy texture, which is emphasized by the cheese, but contains no cream. All that creaminess comes from stirring the rice, which releases starch into the cooking liquid. The seasoning is fairly mimimal, just some alliums, sage, and S&P, but you don't really need much more than. Please try not to give into the urge to add brown sugar and cinnamon to this dish.

I served this pumpkin risotto with pan-seared swordfish, but it would go equally well with pork chops or roast chicken, or another type of firm-fleshed fish. I also made a pumpkin seed sauce to put over the fish--pipian--but you can omit it and enjoy the pumpkin risotto all on its own.

Pumpkin Risotto

For pipian:
1/4 cup unsalted, shelled, pumpkin seeds
1 small jalapeno pepper, with seeds, cut into chunks
1 small handful cilantro
1 small yellow tomato or 1-2 tomatillos, cut into chunks
3 green onions, both white and green parts roughly chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
3/4 - 1 cup chicken stock
Pinch cumin
Pepitas for garnish

For risotto:
6 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup solid-pack canned pumpkin puree
6 leaves fresh sage, finely minced
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Additional salt and pepper to taste

To make pipian: Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry sauce pot until they start to puff up. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then add to the jar of a food processor (a mini prep will do fine) and pulse until nuts are finely chopped. Add the jalapeno, cilantro, tomato, green onions, oil, and enough of the stock to blend into a fairly smooth puree. Pour the puree into the same pot you used to toast the nuts and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. The mixture will splatter a bit so be vigilant. Add the rest of the stock and cook until slightly reduced and thickened. Season with the cumin and salt to taste. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and reserve. Don't wash the pot.

To make the risotto: Bring the stock to a simmer in the same saucepan you used for the pipian and allow it to simmer throughout the cook time.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute over medium-high until it begins to soften. Add the rice and stir well to coat each grain with the oil. Cook for a few minutes to toast the rice. Stir in the garlic. Add the wine and cook until evaporated.

Add one cup of the stock to the pan with the rice. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, stirring regularly. Repeat with another cup of stock. After the third cup, stir in the pumpkin. Continue adding stock and stirring until the rice is almost tender and the dish is still a bit loose. Stir in the sage, Parm, and butter, and season with the salt and pepper to taste.

To serve: Cook protein of your choice. Place risotto in a bowl, top with protein, and add a few spoonsful of pipian to the top. Garnish with additional pepitas, if desired.

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