October has been magnificent in Umbria, with a long string of sunny days, a crowd of happy guests and lots and lots to do here at Alla Madonna del Piatto.
The end of the season is always exciting. In October, we always host a group of delightful guests who come to take part to our olive harvest celebrations.
Every year we especially cherish the moment when we come home with our tins of freshly pressed olive oil, emerald green, fragrant, spicy. We can hardly wait to open a tin, toast a slice of bread and douse it with the liquid gold. The first bite is always an emotion. Once again, the weather gods have not been gentle to our own olive grove. However we are fortunate to have friends who produce magnificent oil and are willing to share it with us.
Our guests get to experience the olive picking and pressing as well as the amazing saffron harvest in Valnerina. They also get to taste a cornucopia of incredible seasonal foods like mushrooms, truffle and chestnuts all accompanied by plenty of wine and craft beer.
If you have been with us at this time of the year you know the joy we share is unique. The atmosphere is cozy and relaxed. It’s a true feast for us all.
If you love cooking like I do, this time of the year is a dream. The seasonal ingredients are fantastic and I often return home with bags and bags of leafy vegetables, juicy fennel bulbs, broccoli, pears, winter melons, there is so much, I can’t stop myself!
And of course the market stands are piled high with squashes and pumpkins. I love the green skin Japanese type squashes, so dense and flavorful, the orange butternut and the deeply ribbed fairy tale squashes which are great to feed a crowd.
Do you have problems cleaning a squash? I remember a time when I thought it was difficult but I find it now very easy as long as I have a really sharp knife. My thin Japanese damascus is ideal to peel a squash or pumpkin. I just cut them into wedges, then turn the wedge flat on a cutting board and quickly shave away the skin, then dice.
If you don’t like to peel the squash, by all means roast it. The flavor and texture will be a little different but still very good.
Winter squashes and risotto are a marriage made in heaven. The sweet orange flesh adds another level of creaminess to the risotto but it needs a bit of salt and herbs to balance the squashes natural sugars. In this recipe, I use a small amount of guanciale (cured pork cheek) and orange peel to obtain a deeper and more interesting flavor.
For the squash
- 700 g (1 and 1/2 lb) butternut or other winter squash, diced
- 1 onion sliced
- needles from 1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- grated zest of half orange
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
For the risotto
- 2 cups risotto rice, preferably Carnaroli or Arborio
- 1/2 onion diced
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- best quality extra virgin olive oil and butter
- 1 fresh mozzarella 200 g (7-8 oz.) diced
- grated Parmigiano cheese
- 4-5 slices guanciale or pancetta, cut into 1/2 inch strips
Prepare the squash
Clean and either dice it into small, 3/4 inch cubes and cook it quickly over medium high heat
leave it in large chunks and braise it slowly on low heat as in the video below.
Sauté the diced pumpkin and onion in 2 tablespoon of olive oil until soft and falling apart. This might take 30 min to over an hour depending on type of squash and size. Blend the mixture to smooth if you wish a creamier texture.
In a separate pan sauté one clove garlic, the finely chopped rosemary and the orange zest until fragrant. Add the braised squash, stir and remove from the heat and cover to infuse.
Add rice and stir 1 minute. Add white wine and cook until absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes.
Add 1/2 cup broth and simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. After this initial stage you can continue to cook, adding more broth by ladlefuls and allowing liquid to be absorbed before adding more, stirring only after you have added the liquid. To avoid stirring all the time, spread the rice in a thin, uniform layer after you stir.
When the rice is tender but still has a bite stir in the pumpkin. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for a few more minutes then add one last ladleful of broth. Scatter the mozzarella over the risotto and cover for 5 minutes until melted. Meanwhile dry fry the guanciale or pancetta until crunchy. Plate the risotto, sprinkle with the grated Parmigiano, top with the pancetta. Serve, passing additional Parmigiano separately. Serves 3-4