Pumpkin Risotto


They say if you make two recipes from a book, then it’s a good purchase. For some it’s the Silver Palate, for others it’s Ina Garten or Martha Stewart. For me, it’s The Union Square Café Cookbook. I bought this book eighteen years ago, and I’m still finding inspiration. Danny Meyer’s Pumpkin Risotto is the latest recipe to inspire.

When the book first came out in 1994 I found the Bar Nuts recipe and have been making them ever since. In fact the Union Square Cafe Bar Nuts have become The Anderson Family Bar Nuts. If you’ve been to our home for dinner, you’ve likely been served them. If you’re our friend, there’s a very good chance we’ve given you a baggy of them at Christmas.

So much are these nuts a part of our family gatherings that I’ve had to republish the recipe with credit at least twice. I’ve tried improving on them, changing them, but the fact is, these classic nuts can’t be improved upon. They’re perfect just the way they are.

Although I haven’t made it as many times as the bar nuts, Rustic Duck Stew with Rigatoni is another beloved recipe. As the weather started to turn this year, I pulled out the book to look for it. Instead I stumbled upon Pumpkin Risotto. Since our family continues to eat less meat, I decided to try it instead.

Although I used my method and basic ingredients for the risotto, I made the Union Square Café’s brilliant pumpkin broth, which made all the difference.

It starts off pretty standard with a little mirepoix, but the recipe gets interesting when you’re instructed to add pumpkin puree, a little allspice, and a cinnamon stick. The surprise ingredient, however, is a drizzle of maple syrup which, when coupled with the pumpkin and warm spices, creates a rich liquid whose raison d’etre is to bring risotto to life.

I made this pumpkin broth the Saturday before Sandy and made the risotto for our last dinner on Sunday before the power went out on Monday. It was a very special meal, so I took care to freeze the remaining broth. When the power went out, I took it, along with a few other precious things, to my sister-in-law’s generator-powered house for safe keeping.

Broth back safely in my own fridge, I made pumpkin risotto again just last night—exactly two weeks after hurricane Sandy. In fact we may have been eating it at just the moment the power went out. I thought back on the night we enjoyed it the first time. How much has happened—the power loss, the wind, the water, the rationing, the drama. For me that week is starting to fade like a dusky dream. But I’m just the person in the interstate back-up who was inconvenienced by the event…  and then there are the people who were in the accident.

Pumpkin Risotto
Serves 4 (but easily doubles)

Because this risotto is so good, I’m writing the recipe for a double batch of broth so you don’t have to start from scratch next time you want to make it… which will be very soon.

1 1/2 tablespoons each: olive oil and butter, divided
2 heaping cups butternut squash, cut into1/2-inch dice
Salt and ground black
1 quart Pumpkin Broth (see recipe below)
Big pinch saffron
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping

Heat 1 tablespoon each of the oil and butter  in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add squash, and cook, stirring frequently and lightly seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer squash to a medium bowl and set aside. Return pot to burner and add remaining 1/2 tablespoon each  of the oil and butter.

(While squash cook, bring broth and saffron to simmer in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low so that broth barely simmers.)

Add onions to the large pot; sauté until golden, about 4 minutes. Add garlic; continue to sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Stir in rice until well coated and toasted, a couple of minutes longer. Stir in wine; simmer until almost evaporated, a couple of minutes longer.

Knowing the process takes 20 to 25 minutes (I set a timer for 20) start adding broth to rice about 1/2 cup at a time—stirring lazily at first and continuously towards the end—adding more only after rice has absorbed the previous amount, until rice is tender with a slight chew at the center. Stir in squash the last 5 minutes or so of cooking. If more than the suggested 4 cups of Pumpkin Broth is needed, stir in water, 1/4 cup at a time, for desired consistency. Stir in cheese and adjust seasonings, including several grinds of pepper. Serve, sprinkling each portion with cheese.

Pumpkin Broth
Makes about 2 quarts

Adapted from The Union Square Café Cookbook (HarperCollins 1994)

1 tablespoon butter
1 each: onion, large carrot, and celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
2 quarts chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 allspice berries
1 3-inch piece cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Heat butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery; sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in pumpkin puree; cook to concentrate flavors, a few minutes longer. Add broth, spices and maple syrup. Cover and bring to a simmer; reduce heat and continue to simmer to blend flavors, about 45 minutes. Strain broth reserving half for another time. (Broth can be refrigerated up to a week or frozen for several months.)

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  1. says

    Oh, Yum! I have a butternut squash risotto that is a family favorite, so this is right up my alley. The one I make is laced with rosemary and parmesan, so this will have an entirely different mood and I can’t wait to try it. Thanks as always!

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