Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Risotto: Easier Than You Think

I don't know why risotto has a reputation as a difficult dish to prepare. Once you get the hang of it, it is surprisingly easy.

Tonight we had roasted pumpkin risotto for dinner. Everyone enjoyed it. My carbo-holic kids are generally big fans of rice, though they are not fond of every type of risotto. The younger two also will not normally eat roast pumpkin. However, they liked this one. Z asked if there was any left for seconds.

I served it with grilled grape tomatoes, peas and carrots, for an extra vegie and protein boost.

The concept of risotto based on pumpkin broth with oregano is based in part on a recipe I saw years ago in an Echo Bistro cookbook. I haven't got a copy of the book, so I am not sure how close this is to theirs. I do know that this omits all the cheese and feta cheese from the original, as well as a lot of fat. They also used matchsticks of pumpkin rather than roast pumpkin.

Roast Pumpkin Risotto

Serves 6 with side dishes or 4 larger serves

500g pumpkin (more if you want a stronger pumpkin flavour)
3 Massel salt-reduced chicken style vegan stock cubes (2 if you don't like much salt)
1/4 cup cooking sherry
5 cups water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Nuttelex vegan margarine
1 diced onion
500g arborio rice
1 small bunch oregano (eg small supermarket bunch - I actually used fresh leaves from the garden), with the leaves stripped from the stems
dash finely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegan cream cheese (optional)

  1. Cut 250 g pumpkin into approx 1 cm pieces. Roast until soft. (Mine was precooked on a previous night when I made roast vegetables for dinner)
  2. Boil water with the stock cubes, the sherry and the other 250g pumpkin, also cut into smaller chunks.
  3. When the boiled pumpkin is cooking in the water, put oil and margarine into a large saucepan and heat until margarine is melted.
  4. Add diced onion to oil mixture. Cook gently until onion softens and becomes translucent.
  5. Check if pumpkin is cooked. Once it is cooked, mash or blend the pumpkin into the liquid. I simply used a stab blender for this step. It will become a pumpkin broth. Return it to the heat.
  6. Add rice to the oil and onion mixture. Mix thoroughly into oil.
  7. Gently heat the rice, onion and oil mixture for a few minutes, while stirring it often. You want the rice to become translucent at its tip and to lightly seal it. There will be a faint fragrance of toasting rice. However, you do not want to colour the rice, so keep it moving and not too hot.
  8. Add 2 soup ladles of pumpkin broth into the rice. Stir through. Turn down the heat to low, so the risotto does not catch on the bottom of the pot.
  9. At this point, some people say you should continuously stir the risotto until it is cooked in about 20 minutes. I however, don't always have that much time or patience. I simply make sure that I stir it well, often enough so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. This is about every 30-60 seconds. Apparently continuous stirring will give you an even creamier texture, as it breaks up the starch even more. I actually prepared the other vegetables in between stirs.
  10. As the liquid is absorbed, add an extra ladle or two of broth. The liquid does not have to be completely absorbed. Once the rice starts to clump together rather than be loose in the liquid, you should add more liquid.
  11. Keep adding liquid and stirring regularly until most of the broth has been used.
  12. When the rice is almost al dente and you are down to the final ladle fulls of broth, add the roast pumpkin, oregano leaves and vegan cream cheese, if you are using it. Also add pepper to taste. Add final amount broth.
  13. Heat until the rice is just al dente. You want a little bit of bite in the texture of the rice, but no hardness. You don't want it completely mushy.
  14. If you want a little more liquid in the mix, add a little boiling water.
Basically, for any risotto, you seal arborio rice in oil or margarine, add liquid in ladles, stir regularly and add most of the non-rice ingredients at the end. It must be arborio rice to get the right toothsome texture and creamy mouth feel. If using onion or garlic, gently cook it in the oil before adding the rice. Most of the other non-rice ingredients can be added at the end. You can use plain stock, stock and wine, stock and tomato puree etc as the liquid. Add liquid until the rice is cooked. You generally need liquid which is at least 2-3 times the amount of rice you use. If you don't have enough liquid, boil the kettle and add boiling water. You can add all sorts of vegetables or protein foods at the end. The non-rice ingredient might be asparagus, sundried tomatoes, peas (good with a touch of mint in the liquid), zucchini, mushroom or any other vegetable or protein that you fancy. If the add-in will not cook in a couple of minutes at the end of cooking, precook it. Basically the trick is to keep adding liquid and keep stirring regularly until it is ready.

Risotto is an easy dish to serve omnis, as it is something that many people will be familiar with. Many will have eaten vegetarian risotto. It doesn't rely on the unfamiliar proteins that bother many omnis, like tofu, seitan or tempeh. It also has a reputation of being tricky, so you will look clever if you make it.


  1. I agree, people seem to think risotto is quite hard but it's not really! And thanks for sharing your recipe, I haven't made pumpkin risotto, it will be a great winter meal :)

  2. Hi Mandee. Thanks for commenting. Every comment is still a thrill for me.

    I love pumpkin, so this is a big favourite for me.

  3. Yum! I keep intending to cook with pumpkin because I love it. But I hate cutting it!
    I really need to get over that don't I..