(not really) Pumpkin risotto

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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?IMG_8847

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?

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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.

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Recipe for Pumpkin Risotto, adapted from BBC Good Food

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Add the wine and let it deglaze the pan, by stirring it around the bottom of the pan.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.

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A very pink (in fact, it’s fuschia) beetroot risotto!

Very pink risotto

The photo Emily took on Sunday of our colourful meal.

My sister gave me 1kg of homegrown beetroot at the end of July and I have almost used them all up. Beetroot ticks the box of ‘unfamiliar ingredient’ that normally puts me off making a recipe. I’ve experimented with sweet and savoury recipes provided by BBC good food and delicious magazine and it’s taken away some of my unease about cooking with beetroot. My learning points:

  1. Always wear an apron. Beetroot stains are devilish to get out!
  2. Kitchen gloves are a godsend when you need to grate beetroot. It prevents a) bits of fingernail or thumb grated in and b) very pink stained hands.

Sadly, however, my main discovery has been… I really don’t like the taste of beetroot. It makes me purse my lips in a funny way as I eat it because I’m not keen on the flavour. Then, it sits rather uneasily in my stomach. So, there you go. I’ve finally admitted it. In fact, if I was the b-list celebrity being interviewed by James Martin on Saturday Morning Kitchen, I would say that my food hate is beetroot. It has even trumped my previous food hate of congealed cheese.

Which is a bit sad really, because I’d like to like this vegetable. It is so very interesting and colourful. I love how it adds a bright fuschia colour to the dish. Besides, everyone seems to like eating beetroot. In fact, I’ve only ever come across one other person who doesn’t like the taste of it.

You’ll notice I’ve written italicised notes to myself next to parts in the method, with my ideas of how I could adapt this recipe so that it will suit my palate. The thing is, this has had lots of rave reviews on the BBC good food website. I bet they all liked beetroot to start off with. I mean, which silly person, who doesn’t really like beetroot, chooses to make a dish that’s all about beetroot?

Anyway, that is just me and my tastebuds. My friends, Emily and JCT came round to help finish off the beetroot risotto the next day. They liked the flavour and especially the colour. And you know what? I’d love to serve it as a prima plata at a dinner party, because it would serve as such a great conversation starter! So for all of your beetroot lovers, let me tell you about how I made beetroot risotto, adapted from BBC Good Food.

List of Ingredients

  • 500g raw beetroot, washed peeled and cut into quarters. 500g is about 5 or 6 small-medium sized beetroots.
  • 25g butter
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 250g risotto rice
  • a large glass of white wine
  • 750ml hot vegetable stock (or chicken stock, you’re not vegetarian)
  • 2 handfuls of parmesan (about 75g).
  • To serve: natural yoghurt or creme fraiche and sprigs of dill, or a slice of goats cheese, balsamic syrup and a scattering of fresh thyme leaves.

Method

1. Prepare your beetroot to roast in the oven. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a large baking pan with foil. I guess this prevents the beetroot staining the tin. Clean, peel (wear the kitchen gloves!) and quarter the beetroot. Coat with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put them in the oven to bake for 45 mins.* I’d like to bring out more of the beetroot’s sweetness. So, next time, I think I’ll add balsamic vinegar or honey and maybe some sprigs of thyme.

*I roasted these at lunchtime, so that I could use some beetroot for a lunchtime roasted beetroot and goats cheese salad. The recipe recommended it as a ‘you could also do…’, so I did. But, if you wanted to save on time, you could choose to start on the risotto.

2. Melt the butter in an large oven proof pan that has a lid (if it doesn’t have a lid, then use cover with tin foil). I decided to test out the oven-proofness of my largest sized Judge saucepan for this recipe. (It passed the test.)

3. Chop the onions and garlic and fry them at a moderate heat until soft. Add the rice and give it a good stir so that every bit of rice is coated.

4. Now, my favourite bit – add that glass of wine. Mmmm… Stir the rice some more. Once most of the wine has disappered in the pan, add ALL of that hot stock. Bring to boil for 5 mins, stir, cover with a lid and then pop it into the oven for about 15 mins. Or until the rice is cooked, but slightly al dente.

add all the stock to the pantrying to puree the beetrootunsuccessful puree

5. When the beetroot is done, take a quarter of them and puree them. I put them in a blender and they failed to puree. Hmmm…. Cut the remainder of the roasted beetroot into small chunks. Okay, so a few options here. Next time, cut the remaining beetroot into very small chunks, say the size of a 1cm cube. Better still, if I can figure it out, puree the whole lot!

6. Grate the parmesan.

7. Take the risotto out of the oven, once the rice is ready. There should still be a bit of liquid in there. Stir in a handful of the parmesan and the beetroot puree and chunks. Watch the risotto gradually transform into a vibrant shade of PINK, as you stir and the beetroot colour bleeds into the rice. I loved watching this bit.

Fuschia Beetroot Risotto

8. Serve immediately with more parmesan cheese and a contrasting white colour. The first time, I had a dollop of yoghurt, as I didn’t have any creme fraiche, and a scattering of dill. Sadly, I only had dried dill but I could taste the life that herb brought to the dish. I’d definitely use the fresh stuff next time though. I love fresh dill. The second day, I had a hunk of goats cheese and a squirt of balsamic syrup. Definitely use fresh dill another time but if I’ve used thyme in the roasting process, then how about a few fresh thyme leaves instead of the dill?

beetroot risotto and yoghurt

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