An evening with Gennaro Contaldo at Cucina Caldesi proved entertaining as well as useful. One of Gennaro’s rules is to always use seasonal products so, around about now, that includes the pumpkin – three of them in fact:
The pumpkin is a member of the plant genus Cucurbita L. and includes squashes, pumpkins, courgettes and marrows. A mixture of all of these can be found in Gennaro’s ‘Pumpkin’ Risotto (Risotto alla Zucca):
‘Cinderella’ pumpkin resembles the one in Charles Perrault’s classic French fairy tale which was magically transformed into a golden carriage to take Cinders off to the ball. It’s actually a French heirloom pumpkin with a deep orange skin and sweet flesh.
Butternut pumpkin (or squash) is, as the name suggests, nutty in flavour.
Gennaro’s third veg was called ‘Mandragone’. I’ve never heard of this variety, but it’s green and tastes like a courgette.
Seasonal produce tends to be cheaper than fruit and veg grown elsewhere and flown in. It’s also generally better for you as it contains more of the nutrients you need. Squashes, for instance, are high in vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, and potassium, as well as vitamin A and vitamin E.
So, first make a stock, using carrot, celery, onion and the skin of your pumpkin. Risotto rice (either Arborio or, ideally, Carnaroli) will give your risotto a creamy flavour as, ‘like the sea’, it takes the flavour around it. (Gennaro’s stock was started at 10am that morning… just saying). Another tip from Gennaro – there’s no such thing as ‘cooking wine’. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t use it in your cooking… Onward!
Ingredients (serves 4)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 celery stalk, finely chopped
1/4 red chilli (optional), finely chopped
1 rosemary spring
300g risotto rice
60ml white wine
300g pumpkin, clean weight, cubed
1.5 litres vegetable stock
60g parmesan cheese, grated
Heat the oil and sweat the onion, celery, chilli and rosemary until soft. Add the rice, stirring well to coat in the oil. Add the wine and allow to evaporate, stirring all the time. Add the pumpkin, together with a ladle of stock and keep stirring. As the rice absorbs the liquid, add more stock and… keep stirring. Continue adding stock and stirring for about 20 minutes when the rice should be ‘al dente’. Take off the heat, stir in the butter and parmesan. Serve immediately, with added cheese, more finely chopped chilli and a sprig of rosemary to serve. I can confirm that, having eaten Gennaro’s risotto, this recipe is simple, nutritious, and delicious, and perfect for a chilly autumn evening.
Tip: serve with crusty bread; licking the bowl clean obviously isn’t an option, so Italians traditionally fare la scarpetta (do the ‘little shoe’), and mop up every last tasty morsel with a piece of bread.