Pumpkin and Feta Risottini
(Photo by Apurva Nargundkar)
Settling into a seat across the table for a business lunch one cool autumn afternoon, I was wondering how the meal was going to go. I don’t like business lunches or dinners and I find business breakfasts most distressing. First of all, I am not a big breakfast eater Then, I would like to have VFM, irrespective of whoever is paying. So it’s such a pity that I have to make this hard choice between tucking into the eggs, hash browns, mushrooms, tomato, spinach and the works, or stick to weetbix as is my wont and maybe nibble fashionably at some grapefruit?
And if the breakfast is somewhere that serves an Indian hot food selection, I feel this compulsion to go for Indian, although I know for a fact that I will be disappointed. But on a business trip I store up Indian food like a camel before setting forth a trip across the hot desert sands. Who knows when the next Indian meal is going to come from! Did I also tell you, one of the reasons I don’t like to mix victuals and work is because I can’t work on a full stomach! I envy those who can polish a two course meal with a few glasses of wine at lunch time and then head back to work…
So it was with great trepidation that I ordered a pumpkin and feta risotto at that restaurant that autumn afternoon. The decision wasn’t too difficult. This was the only vegetarian dish (no chicken/beef stock- I was assured) apart from buffalo mozzarella bruschetta - sounds good- roma tomatoes and fresh basil- lovely! - and garlic and chopped Spanish onion! Yikes- not at lunch time!
The risotto was good. The nutmeg and pepper subtly vied for attention with the slightly dominant rosemary. The feta gave a nice tang to the creamy sauce which gently hugged the grain- why did the grain always feel as if it was a bit underdone? I don’t really like the chewy Arborio rice. If only it tasted like durum wheat pasta. Hmm, that’s an idea- I have often seen rice like pasta in the aisles of supermarkets. It is called risoni or Orzo.
And I have already christened it- a risottini! Mama Mia!
The chill in the air and the discovery of the idea of new pasta dish had whetted my appetite. Already my mind was making plans to skip work and go- not for a post-prandial snooze, but to the supermarkets to buy risoni. But I had business to attend to and a proposal to get across.
The deal clinched, the meal and the supermarket visit had to be abandoned. But the risottini resonated in my mind, until I made it tonight.
And now I don’t feel like writing the recipe – didn’t I tell you I don’t like to work on a full stomach?!
Pumpkin and Feta Risottini
500 gms Risoni
250 gms butternut squash/pumpkin
200 gms sliced mushroom
I medium potato boiled (in the stock)
1 medium brown onion, chopped
1 tbsp crushed garlic
4-5 cups vegetable stock – kept on simmer till required (you can use chicken stock as well)
4 tbsp double cream
100 gms cubed low-salt feta cheese
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp olive oil
A generous pinch of nutmeg
2 sprigs of rosemary (or a teaspoon of dried rosemary)
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and cube pumpkin into 1 inch cubes. Don’t discard the peels, you can throw them into the stock along with vegetables like a stalk of celery, half an onion, a potato, half a carrot, some cabbage or cauliflower stems, broccoli stems, etc.)
In a large heavy bottomed pan heat half the oil and stir fry the sliced mushroom and keep them aside. In the same oil, add a little butter and pan roast the pumpkin with some rosemary. You may want to cover the pot with a lid. Remove the pumpkin and keep it aside along with the mushroom. Add the rest of the oil and butter and sauté the chopped onion in the same pan. Add the garlic and then the risoni and fry it for a minute or so. Add two cups of stock and the seasoning including the remaining rosemary. Mash and add the boiled potato. Add more stock cup by cup until the risoni absorbs most of it. Add a little hot water if you feel the pasta is getting too sticky. The risoni will be done in about 15 minutes. Test it; it should be soft, not al dente. Add the cream and check the taste. Add the pumpkin, mushroom and let it rest covered for a few minutes to infuse the flavours.
Serve warm, garnished with cubed or crumbled feta. Bon appétit!