I have a confession to make.
When I first arrived, I couldn’t afford to buy arborio rice here. So, in that first year, I didn’t make any risotto, one of my customary meals back in the UK. Thereafter I got so desperate for the comfort of cooking and eating risotto, I managed to convince myself that it didn’t matter if I used jasmine or ginger flower rice (a Cambodian medium grain rice) instead of arborio, carnaroli or any different type of risotto rice. I’ve merrily been making and feeding this pumpkin ‘risotto’ to many of my friends, using whatever rice I had at hand. Believe me, there were no complaints. Spicy, and gloriously ochre with the sweetness of fresh coriander. Who would turn down this dish?
However, a few months ago it all changed. My friend Robert gave me some of his delicious bacon, mushroom and spinach risotto (which I need to try cooking myself!) made with arborio rice. And the realisation of the error of my ways overwhelmed me. It just ain’t a risotto without risotto rice! How had I duped myself into thinking that this chewier, creamier textured rice could be replaceable?
So, yes. You can make this not-really-risotto, pumpkin risotto (what am I supposed to call it now?) with any grain of rice that you have. But don’t call it risotto.
It’s really simple to make. I make it a lot as pumpkins are pretty much available all year round in Cambodia, but not always strictly as a risotto. I really appreciate the fact that here you can buy however much of the pumpkin that you’re planning on cooking with: you just ask the market seller to cut off however much you need. In contrast, I don’t think that I would have made this in the UK because I didn’t really buy pumpkins. I didn’t really know what to do with a whole big pumpkin and I didn’t shop in those places that sold different varieties of smaller ones.
I adapted the original recipe to add in a bit more spice, with extra cumin, chilli and coriander. Lastly, there’s the grown-up version with the added white wine.
Recipe for Pumpkin Risotto, adapted from BBC Good Food
- 400g pumpkin, seedless and peeled
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 5 garlic cloves (but garlic isn’t as strong here, so perhaps 2 if your garlic is strong)
- 1 onion
- 200g risotto rice
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 litre of hot vegetable/chicken stock
- 125-250ml (or more) dry white wine
- 25g cold butter
- 50g parmesan cheese, grated (for vegetarians, choose an alternative or omit altogether)
- generous bunch of coriander, roughly chopped up
- spring onion, chopped up (optional)
- 2 red chilli peppers
- salt and pepper
- optional lime wedges to serve
- Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4/Cut the pumpkin into fairly even 1inch/2.5cm cubes. As you can see from the photo, I don’t worry too much about being precise. Coat it with 1tbsp of vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for about 30 mins.
- Meanwhile get started on the risotto. Crush the garlic and chop up the onion. If using spring onions, then finely chop up the whites of the spring onions, reserving the green part as a garnish for later.
- Heat the rest of the oil on a gentle heat in a medium sized pan and fry the onions, garlic and spring onion until the onions are soft.
- Now add the cumin and rice, being careful not to let it catch on the bottom of the pan. Stir so that every grain of rice is coated in the spice.
- Add the wine and let it deglaze the pan, by stirring it around the bottom of the pan.
- Next, adding the stock about a ladleful at a time is the accepted wisdom but I’m pretty imprecise about this. I think that add however much you need so that it just covers the rice and the rice won’t burn at the bottom of the pan. Stir and stir until the stock has disappeared this helps release the starch from the rice). Then add in a bit more stock. *As you’re doing this, multi-task with step 7.* Continue until the rice is cooked but still has a wee bit of bite – this is al dente. Add another generous ladleful of stock, this helps to create a sauce, and the butter. Cover with the lid to help the butter melt.
- Check on the pumpkin and remove from the oven once they’ve been baked. Grate the cheese, roughly chop up the coriander, finely slice the chilli peppers and the greens of the spring onions (if using).
- Once the rice has been cooked, add the pumpkin, cheese, coriander, spring onions and the chilli peppers. And stir through to mix well. If you’d like a bit of zest, sprinkle some lime juice on top. Et voila – enjoy.
The verdict? A satisfying meat-free meal, which my friends, khmer and western, enjoy eating. I especially like this paired with kimchi.