Working with Fresh Pumpkins to Make Risotto


The arrival of cool autumn weather brings truckloads of pumpkins. Their arrival to stores, farm stands, and front porches inspires the spirit of the season year after year. If you are looking for different ways to utilize this tasty gourd, consider picking up a smaller sugar pumpkin and making a delicious orange-colored risotto.

To make risotto, you will need to use the superfino variety of rice, which has the fattest and largest grains and absorbs more liquid than any other rice while still remaining firm. Superfino rice includes Arborio and carnaroli.

If you enjoy a more soupy risotto, use a semifino variety like vialone nano. This type will release less starch. Once you find a quality brand you like, stick with it for consistent results.

There are many myths about stirring the rice. At the CIA, we teach our students that you don’t need to stir the rice constantly, especially during the first 10 minutes. Keep the rice wet at all times during the first stage of cooking, and gently stir every few minutes during the simmering to make sure it stays uniformly moist and doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

One of the keys to a successful risotto is using a high-quality broth. For the best results, it should be boiling hot when you add it to the rice in the pan.

“In Italy they say ‘è’ un peccato mortale’ (it’s a mortal sin) to use the wrong pot to cook risotto,” says CIA Chef Gianni Scappin. “You need a deep stainless steel sautoir, which is a saucepan with straight sides, a heavy bottom, and a handle. Absolutely avoid using a sauté pan or skillet, because the liquid will evaporate too quickly before the rice has a chance to absorb it.”

Chef Scappin adds that there is also strong sentiment in Italy regarding the proper way to both serve and eat risotto. Serving it in a bowl instead of on a flat plate is another “peccato mortale.” Eat your risotto from the outside edge of the plate inward, so that the rice has time to cool slightly as you eat it, enabling you to really enjoy the flavor. The following recipe is from The Culinary Institute of America’s Pasta cookbook (2013, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), available for purchase at bookstores nationwide or online.

For step-by-step demonstrations watch Chef Scappin prepare Risotto con Zucce e Parmigiano below.

Risotto con Zucca e Parmigiano

Risotto con Zucca e ParmigianoServes 4–6

  • One 3-pound pumpkin
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 10 ounces (1 1/2 cups) carnaroli or vialone nano rice
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper, as needed
  • Sage leaves as needed (optional)
  • Crumbled amaretti cookies (optional)
  1. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. Peel the pumpkin and dice the flesh. Set aside.
  2. Heat the broth over low heat; keep warm.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pot over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the diced pumpkin and continue to cook, stirring to coat the pumpkin with the oil, until it is hot, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and toast lightly, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add enough of the broth to come 1/2 inch above the rice, and cook, stirring frequently to be sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom. As the rice absorbs the broth, keep adding more, 1/2 cup at a time.
  5. Once the rice has absorbed almost all the broth, and the grains are just tender (al dente), about 20 minutes total cooking time, remove the pot from the heat. Add the butter and cheese and stir vigorously until the risotto is creamy. (The pumpkin will start to fall apart; this is what should happen and gives the risotto a brilliant orange color and additional creaminess.) Season with salt and pepper if necessary and serve immediately on flat plates.
  6. Top the risotto with a few leaves of sage fried in butter and a sprinkling of crumbled amaretti cookies.

Chef’s Note: Any type of winter squash or pumpkin will work in this recipe, including butternut, cheese, acorn, or hubbard squash. The color of this risotto will depend on the type of winter squash you use.

Nutrition analysis per 4-ounce serving: 150 calories, 3g protein, 13g carbohydrate, 10g fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 150mg sodium, 15mg cholesterol, less than 1g fiber.


About Author

The Culinary Institute of America is the World's Premier Culinary College. The CIA's main campus in Hyde Park, NY is home to four restaurants. The college offers associate degrees in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts and bachelor's degrees in culinary arts management, baking and pastry arts management, and culinary science. Programs for food enthusiasts ranging from one to five days are offered throughout the year.

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