Tag Archives: Wine

Pollo alla Cacciatora (Hunter’s Chicken Stew)

14 Jan

In past centuries, peasants used the vegetables cultivated in their fields and the animals raised on their farms to prepare their meals.  Pollo alla cacciatora is one of these peasant recipes and seems to have originated in Tuscany.  Typically for Sunday dinner, chicken, a readily-available animal, was used to prepare a fine and festive feast.  The addition of fresh vegetables such as garlic, carrots, onion, celery, rosemary, tomatoes – as well as a good dose of wine – enhanced the flavor of the meat.  The name pollo alla cacciatora makes reference to the ingredients like garlic and rosemary, used by hunters (cacciatori) when cooking game.  Today we enjoy this delectable dish throughout the peninsula as a second course or else as main course accompanied by either mashed potatoes or polenta (for the polenta recipe, see Brasato con polenta).  I like this recipe because it is so versatile, and there are many adaptations of the classic recipe (please refer to the notes below for some suggestions).  I personally love to add the delicate flavor of Taggiasche olives to my Pollo alla cacciatora; with their fruity-sweet bouquet and delicate mellow taste, they blend very well with the vegetables and the wine.  These small dark-green olives are typically from Liguria (Western Riviera) and were originally planted and cultivated by the monks on their land overlooking the sea.  Travelling in different countries I have realized that this delicious Italian dish is also well-known and appreciated abroad (no doubt why!!!) and is commonly called Chicken Cacciatore!!!

POLLO ALLA CACCIATORA (HUNTER’S CHICKEN STEW)
Preparation time: 1 ½ hours                                   Servings: 4

pollo cac. 3 small

INGREDIENTS
1 kg (about 2¼ pounds) chicken, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely sliced
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 celery stalks, finely sliced
270 ml (1 cup) dry white wine
450 g (1 pound) canned tomatoes (S. Marzano)
200 g (1 cup) pitted Taggiasche olives in Extra Virgin olive oil
130 ml (½ cup) chicken stock (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. Clean, wash and dry the chicken
2. After heating the oil olive in a large non-stick skillet, fry the chicken on medium-high heat for about 10-15 minutes until the chicken pieces are golden brown on both sides
3. Add the rosemary and the vegetables.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Cook for 4-5 minutes.  Add the white wine and cook for additional 5 minutes
4. Add the tomatoes and the olives.  Cover and cook for about 20 minutes.  Remove the lid and cook for additional 20 minutes until chicken is tender, stirring occasionally.  If the liquid evaporates add some chicken stock
5. Add a little salt and/or pepper to taste if desired.  Remove the rosemary sprig and serve immediately.

Note: Here are some other ingredients you can use when preparing Pollo alla cacciatora:
1. Wine.  You can substitute white wine with red wine.  Although I prefer to cook chicken in white wine, some people use red wine because it adds a stronger taste to the meat. 
2. Olives.  You can substitute Taggiasche olives with either the pitted black or green olives that you like the most
3. Peperoncino. Cook the chicken with love, passion and add some fresh or dried peperoncino to spice it up a bit!
4. Mushrooms. You can add 200 g (about ½ pound) champignon mushrooms.  Finely slice the mushrooms and add them before the vegetables.  You can also use dried mushrooms instead of champignons.  Dried porcini mushrooms (about a handful) give a special and woodsy taste to this dish, too.  Before using dried mushrooms, soak them in hot – but not boiling – water for about twenty minutes; some (a few tablespoons) of the filtered water can also be used for cooking, to enhance the flavors of your recipe.  If you add mushrooms you have to use white wine and avoid olives. -Paola
 

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Risotto allo Champagne (Champagne Risotto)

29 Dec

Are you ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve with an exceptional recipe?  Risotto allo champagne is a classic first course, easy and quick to prepare, very elegant and tasty, perfect for an important occasion such as New Year’s Eve or a special romantic encounter.  The simplicity of the ingredients is enhanced by the champagne aromas that give a touch of romanticism and an aphrodiasiac effect to this dish.  Champagne sparkling wine can only be called so if produced in the region of France bearing the same name.  In Italy however, we also produce excellent sparkling wines such as those from Franciacorta, Trento, Oltrepo’ Pavese and Asti. In an interesting study researchers pointed out that the effect of the scents present in certain dry champagnes, particulary blanc de blancs, replicate the female pherormones! Intriguing! Champagne’s delicate bubbles allow the alcohol to reach the blood stream more rapidly than still wine, contributing to quickly reducing one’s inhibition, so it’s no wonder that it is considered the ultimate symbol of celebration (no champagne, no party!!!).  Further, in small quantities, alcohol produces a stimulating effect, which is due to the high content of minerals such as potassium, zinc and magnesium, essential for both male and female sex hormone production.  Regardless of its aphrodisiac properties, champagne risotto is a exceptional dish to enjoy in the company of a special person or on a special occasion.  I suggest complementing this risotto recipe at the table with a nice flute of champagne.  I hope this coming year you will find happiness while cooking delicious meals and hosting joyful gatherings.  Cheers and Happy New Year!  Buon Anno!

RISOTTO ALLO CHAMPAGNE (CHAMPAGNE RISOTTO)
Preparation time: 15 minutes   Servings: 4

Risotto champagne small

INGREDIENTS
500 ml (approx. 2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
500 ml (2 cups) champagne, at room temperature
25 g (¼ cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
2. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (4 T) of butter. Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions. (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.).   Add 250 ml (1 cup) champagne and stir until completely absorbed
3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 9 minutes. Add the rest of champagne about 250 ml (1 cup). Cook for 5-6 minutes until the champagne is completely absorbed. It depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package.

The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should still seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 30 g (2 T).

Remove your risotto from the heat. At this point, keep stirring the risotto to blend in the cheese and butter. You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes. Arrange the risotto on a serving dish, serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: My favorite champagne is Cristal, but I prefer to drink it rather than put it in my rice!  Actually for this recipe, you can also use any good Dry Sparkling wine, Italian, French or otherwise.  For more tips on cooking risotto and selecting the right rice, please also see the Pumpkin Risotto recipe.  -Paola

Brasato al Barolo con Polenta (Braised Beef in Barolo Wine with Polenta)

13 Nov

The name brasato derives from brace (BRA-chay), the hot coals over which the meat was traditionally cooked.  Braised beef marinated in a fine Barolo wine is one of the most representative and classic dishes of the Piedmont region, a savory delight for a cozy dinner on cold nights.  The Barolo’s intense flavor gives an extra aroma and unique taste to the meat.  Barolo is a rich, deeply concentrated full-bodied wine, with pronounced tannins and acidity (and therefore ideal for marinating).  The tannins contained in the wine bind to the food proteins and, when used as a marinade, come across as softer.  In addition to the wine flavor, the aroma of herbs such as bay leaf and rosemary gives a special touch to this dish.  Rosemary and bay leaf are also known for their invigorating properties.  For example, rosemary, the delicious herb associated with Aphrodite the goddess of love, boosts blood supply and helps increase sensitivity of the skin.  You can enjoy brasato with either mashed potatoes or, like we Italians do, with polenta – “the Italian grits”.  Polenta is made from cornmeal and ranges in color from golden yellow to the white polenta from Veneto.  In the Roman times, a polenta made of crushed-grains (pulmentum) was the staple of Roman Legions.  Maize, however, was not cultivated in Europe before Cristoforo Colombo brought it back in the 16th century.  Then for hundreds of years polenta, the traditional food of the Northern Italian peasants, was known as the poor-man’s food.  Now, defying its humble origin, polenta has also been discovered by a new, sophisticated audience and is frequently found in gourmet restaurants.

BRASATO AL BAROLO CON POLENTA (BRAISED BEEF IN BAROLO WINE WITH POLENTA)

Preparation time: 12 hrs      Cooking time: 2 ½ hrs+40 min.        Serving: 4

INGREDIENTS
Brasato
900 g (2 pounds) cappello di prete, beef chuck roast
1 bottle Barolo wine
3 carrots
1 celery rib
1 yellow onion
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 piece of cinnamon
3 pepper corns
3 cloves
40 g (3 tablespoons) butter
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Salt to taste

Polenta
1.6 l water (about 1-½ qts)
1 tablespoons kosher salt
400 g (2 cups) cornmeal
2 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)

DIRECTIONS
Brasato

You should start the day before you plan to cook the meat.

  1. Tie the meat with a cotton string so it keeps its shape
  2. Cut the carrots, the celery and the onion into big pieces, and put them in a large glass bowl with the meat and bay leaf, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves and pepper.  Add the wine.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a cool place (I suggest the refrigerator) for 12 hours.  This is important to reduce the proliferation of bacteria
  3. After 12 hours remove the meat from the bowl and dry it with some paper towels
  4. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, sauté the meat in the butter and olive oil for 5 minutes on both sides
  5. Add the vegetables, the wine and some salt to taste
  6. Cover and cook on low heat for at least 2-½ hours.  The meat should be so tender that it could be carved with a spoon
  7. Remove the meat from the pan.  Discard the rosemary sprigs and the bay leaves
  8. Blend the vegetables and liquid with an electric blender, and then reduce the sauce for 2-3 minutes
  9. Slice the meat when it is no longer too hot; it will be easier to slice.  Pour the sauce on the meat and serve either with polenta or mashed potatoes.

Polenta

  1. In a heavy sauce pan bring the water to boil.  Add the salt
  2. Reduce the heat to low and gradually whisk in the cornmeal to prevent lumps from forming
  3. Cover and cook for 5 minutes
  4. Remove the lid and stir constantly with a wooden spoon on high heat
  5. Continue to stir for about 40 minutes (according to package cooking time) until the polenta is thickened.  It should separate from the sides of the pan, and be able to support a spoon
  6. Add 2-3 T oil olive
  7. Pour the polenta onto a wooden cutting board, let it stand for a few minutes and cut it into slices using either a knife or, according to the peasant tradition, a cotton string.

Note: Barolo wine needs to be matched with food of similar weight such as meat dishes, heavy pasta and rich risotto, and it is excellent for marinating. In fact, marinades work their magic due to the acids in the wine which break down muscle tissue and soften the meat.  An appropriate Barolo substitute is Barbera or another full-bodied red wine.  Polenta is not difficult to make but needs a lot of attention and nearly constant stirring.  The best pan to use should be a copper pot surrounded by the cooking flame (a large gas-burner is ideal).  In the past – and indeed still today – farmers cooked polenta over an open fire, and this without doubt the tastiest version you can eat!!! -Paola

Risotto ai Funghi Porcini (Cep Mushroom Risotto)

7 Nov

The term rice refers to the seed of the Oryza sativa plant.  The Chinese were already cultivating this plant 12,000 years ago!  It spread slowly to North Africa and Europe.  This cereal arrived in the North America, first in South Carolina around 1700, probably from Madagascar.  In Italy the first rice farmers were monks in the Piedmont region, and this grain was initially used as a medicine for to maintain the normal digestive functions.  Rice is an excellent source of fuel for our body.  It is easily digested and so the energy it supplies quickly becomes available to our working muscles, brain and body organs, like the heart and liver.  In fact, rice is rich in starch (more than 75%), in vitamins (mainly B group) and some minerals (calcium and iron); instead, it contains few proteins (only 6-7%).  Much of the Italian harvest is used for making risotto, a starchy rice, in the northern regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto.  Risotto is a versatile dish, and its character changes depending on what you add to it.  For example, zucchini flowers make a wonderful spring-time risotto.  Cook a champagne risotto, with passion!, for a special romantic encounter.  This recipe, with porcini mushrooms, is a classic Autumn dish, and it has a rich, aromatic and delicious flavor.  You prepare the mushrooms the same way for both this risotto and the roast filet.

RISOTTO AI FUNGHI PORCINI (CEP MUSHROOM RISOTTO)

Preparation Time: about 40 min
Cooking time:            10 min + 15-20 min.                         Servings: 4

INGREDIENTS
Porcini
450 g (approx. 1 pound) Porcini mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)

Risotto
1 liter (approx. 4 cups) chicken stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine, at room temperature
25 g (¼  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Clean the porcini (see Tips, below), and slice the mushrooms vertically into 2 mm (⅛ in) strips.  In a large saucepan over medium-high heat sauté the olive oil and the garlic.  Stir in the mushrooms, salt to taste, cook approx. 7 minutes over medium heat.  Continue to cook for 1-2 min. over a high flame.  Add the parsley and set aside.

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
  2. In a large saucepan heat 4 T of butter.  Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.  Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions.  (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.)  Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed
  3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 12 minutes (it depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package)
  4. Set aside a few spoonfuls of mushrooms and add the rest.Cook for about 2 more minutes.

The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should still seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 2 T.

Remove your risotto and mushrooms from the heat.  At this point, keep stirring the risotto to blend in the cheese and butter.  You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes.  Arrange the risotto on a serving dish, place the remaining mushrooms on top and serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: To clean the mushrooms, I suggest to wipe them off with a moist cloth and to use a knife, if necessary, to remove any remaining soil.  Many say not to wash them with water, but I prefer this. If you do so, do it immediately before slicing and cooking.  It is important to use either a non-stick or steel pan, because other metals in contact with the porcini can release toxic compounds.  Porcini are well suited to drying, and actually the flavor of dried mushrooms is more intense.  Before using, soak them in hot, but not boiling, water for about twenty minutes; the filtered water can also be used for cooking, enhancing the flavors of other recipes.  For more tips on cooking risotto and selecting the right rice, please also see the Pumpkin Risotto recipe  -Paola

Spaghetti al Pesce Spada e Capperi (Spaghetti with Swordfish and Capers)

1 Nov

Pasta is a great ingredient for preparing quick and delicious meals and is a real treat to make for someone special.  Spaghetti with sword fish, capers and cherry tomatoes is a tasty first course to enjoy before your non-pasta secondo (like we Italians eat it), or as a solitary main dish, fast and easy to prepare.  It is made of fresh and flavorful ingredients from Sicily, land of sea, sun and an extraordinary food tradition.  Since Italy is a country with thousands of miles of coast, it is understandable that fish is a big part of our diet.  This particular pasta sauce blends the delicate taste of sword fish with the intense flavor of the capers, either the edible flower buds or the fruit (cucunci in Italian, pronounced cu-CUN-chi) of a Mediterranean plant found in rocky terrain.  The best capers, the ones I love with my Martini (!) and like to use in my recipes, are the cucunci from the Pantelleria and Salina islands, which are preserved either in salt or vinegar.  They are used to season or garnish salads, pizza, pasta sauces, meat dishes and fish dishes. 

SPAGHETTI AL PESCE SPADA E CAPPERI (SPAGHETTI WITH SWORDFISH AND CAPERS)

Preparation Time: about 20 min.        Cooking time: 7-8 min.           Servings: 4

INGREDIENTS
340 g (12 oz) spaghetti (Faella Pasta)
450 g (1 pound) swordfish filet
450 g (1 pound) cherry tomatoes
90 g (½ cup) capers (sotto sale, preserved in salt)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)
80 ml (⅓ cup) dry white wine
2 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and set aside
  2. Remove the stem from the cucunci capers (the flower bud capers are stem free)
  3. Wash the capers under running water to remove the salt and set aside
  4. Wash and dry the filet with paper towel.  Remove skin and dice
  5. Drop the pasta in boiling water at this time (see below)
  6. In non-stick skillet on high heat sautè the garlic with olive oil.  Add the fish filet and cook for 3 min on high heat, add the wine
  7. Add the tomatoes and cook on medium heat for 5 min
  8. Add the capers, some salt and  fresh ground pepper to taste.

In a large pot of salted water, at the same time you are cooking the sauce, cook the spaghetti al dente (for about 7-8 min, read the cooking time on the package).  Drain and transfer the pasta to the skillet, mix gently.  Before serving garnish with the parsley.

Note: If you cannot find capers from Pantelleria, make sure to choose the biggest ones you can find, as they taste better and make a better visual impact in the sauce.  You can also substitute the spaghetti with linguine, a flat, spaghetti-like pasta from Liguria, which is often served with pesto or with seafood. -Paola

Filetto Arrosto ai Porcini (Roast Fillet with Porcini)

17 Oct

OCTOBER GROCERY SHOPPING: PUMPKIN AND MUSHROOMS

Autumn started a few weeks ago and there are already some of the season’s delicacies on our tables: zucca (pumpkin) and funghi porcini (Boletus edulis, cep mushrooms).  The Italian name porcini (pronounced “por-CHEE-nee”) means ‘piglets’, probably to the fondness pigs have for eating them.  Porcini have more proteins than most of other vegetables apart from soybeans.  They are also rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber.  Porcini have a nutty and slightly meaty taste, with a smooth and creamy texture.  Young, small porcini are tastier than older and larger ones.  Certainly these mushrooms have more taste than any other cultivated white mushrooms, giving dishes like a hearty, earthy flavor.  They are delicious raw, as well as when sautéed with garlic, parsley and butter, of if used in pasta, risotto, soup, meat or other recipes. 

FILETTO ARROSTO AI PORCINI (ROAST FILLET WITH PORCINI)

Preparation Time: 1 h                                  Servings: 4

Roast fillet is an elegant main course for any special occasion.  This cut of meat is extremely tender, and it goes exceptionally well with any side dish.  The earthy flavor of Porcini mushrooms is an outstanding complement to the delicate taste of the filet.

INGREDIENTS
Porcini
450 g (approx. 1 pound) Porcini mushroom
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin )

Roast Fillet
700 g (approx. 1 ½ pound) fillet or tenderloin roast
Balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves
80 ml (about ⅓ cup) olive oil (extra Virgin)
1 sprig of rosemary
1 sprig of sage
Salt and freshly ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 250 °C (475°F)
Clean the porcini (see Tips, below), and slice the mushrooms vertically into 2 mm (⅛ in) strips.  In a large saucepan over medium-high heat sauté the olive oil and the garlic.  Stir in the mushrooms, salt to taste, cook approx. 7 minutes over medium heat.  Continue to cook for 1-2 min. over a high flame.  Add the parsley and set aside.

Before cooking the filet roast, let stand unrefrigerated until it reaches room temperature.  Marinate the garlic with the olive oil for at least two hours.

  1. In a large roasting pan, rub the olive oil seasoned with garlic all over the meat
  2. Lay the rosemary and sage sprigs in the bottom of the roasting pan, and place the fillet roast on top of them.  Generously season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with some balsamic vinegar on the meat
  3. Place in the oven for about 10-12 min.  Reduce heat to 180°C (350°F) and cook for an additional 25-30 minutes.  Use a meat thermometer to determine when it reaches your preferred level of doneness (50°C/125°F for rare and 55°C/135°F for medium)
  4. Remove roast from oven and let stand (covered with aluminum foil) for about 15 minutes before serving
  5. Heat the mushrooms and serve on top of the meat.

Note: To clean the mushrooms, I suggest to wipe them off with a moist cloth and to use a knife, if necessary, to remove any remaining soil.  Many say not to wash them with water, but I prefer to do this. If you decide to, do it immediately before slicing and cooking.  When cooking, it is important to use either a non-stick or steel pan, because other metals in contact with the porcini can release toxic compounds.  Porcini are well suited to drying, and actually the flavor of dried mushrooms is more intense.  Before using dried mushrooms, soak them in hot, but not boiling, water for about twenty minutes; the filtered water can also be used for cooking, enhancing the flavors of other recipes.  -Paola

Risotto di Zucca (Winter Squash Risotto)

6 Oct

IT’S PUMPKIN SEASON!

Fall has arrived, nature has changed its colors from green to yellow, red, brown and ochre, we have exchanged our summer wardrobes for the winter ones and changed the types of food on our tables. It’s pumpkin season!  Winter squash is a very nice vegetable, suitable for preparing a variety of recipes ranging from risotto to ravioli, soup to pasta sauce, cakes to croquettes – and even all by itself.  Fall’s famous vegetable, in addition to being a tasty part of many recipes, is a very good and healthy choice of food, an excellent source of beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), a good source of fiber, potassium, iron, folate, magnesium and manganese.  Pumpkin is low-calorie and contains lots of water, thus a perfect ingredient to use when slimming down.

RISOTTO DI ZUCCA (WINTER SQUASH RISOTTO)

Preparation Time: about 2 hrs       
Cooking time:            1 ½ hrs + 15-20 min.                   
Servings: 4

Squash or pumpkin risotto is extremely popular in northern Italy during the cold months. Little wonder, because a good winter squash has a delightful tangy sweetness to it, while the risotto has a splendid creamy texture, perfect on a cold, gray winter day with a nice glass of Italian wine!  There are several varieties  of winter squash you can use; the one I like the most is zucca di Mantova (Cucurbita maxima, Kabocha).  It takes its name from Mantova, a city in northern Italy, where it grows.  It has a very sweet, tender flesh, tasting like a cross between sweet potato and pumpkin.  It is large, round and squat, dark green and mottled, often with bumpy skin.  A good alternative is butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) that also has  sweet and nutty taste.  When you choose your pumpkin make sure it is firm all the way around. 

INGREDIENTS
Zucca di Mantova (half) about 750 g (1 ½ lb)
1 liter vegetable or chicken stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine, at room temperature
25 g (¼  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly white ground pepper

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 200°C (390-400°F).  Cut pumpkin in half crosswise and scoop out the seeds and stringy material.  Wash in plain cold water.  Place the pumpkin halves on a baking sheet and bake for about 1-1/2 hours or until the flesh is very tender when pierced with a fork.  Don’t worry if the edges are browned. The natural sugars actually caramelize and give it a richer more complex flavor.  When it is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and mush it with a fork.  Set aside half of the puree. You can freeze the other half in a plastic bag or air-tight container for another risotto.

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
  2. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (4 T) butter.  Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.  Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions.  (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.)  Add the wine and stir until is completely absorbed
  3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 15 minutes (it depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package)
  4. Add the squash and cook for about 2 minutes.

The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly  tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about  30 g (2 T).

Remove your risotto from the heat.  At this point, stir the risotto vigorously to blend in the cheese and butter.  You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes and serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: Cooking pumpkin is much easier than you think.  There are different methods: Boiling, Steaming and Roasting.  Roasting is my favorite one because it give a richer flavor.  You can roast the pumpkin some days in advance and freeze it until you are ready to use it. This process will speed up your risotto preparation time. 

It is important to know about rice when buying for risotto; choose short-grained round or semi-round rice, rich in starch; among the best rice for making risotto are Italian Arborio and  Carnaroli.  Don’t forget that risotto requires a great deal of attention and continuous stirring!  Risotto is a perfect gluten-free dish.  -Paola

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