Pumpkin Risotto from Dinner With Friends
There are times in life, I’m sure you’ll agree me, that you meet someone and you just know.
I met Jenn Maclean-Angus on set. As a way to process through his grief, Ben Ratner wrote a screenplay that is based on the life of Babz Chula. Entitled Down River, it follows the lives of three female artists, a painter (played by Benny’s wife and my friend from Biz Books days, Jen Spence), an actor, played by the gorgeous Gabrielle Miller, and a singer, played by No Sinner’s Colleen Rennison. The first night of filming took place at the Petley Jones Gallery on a rainy night in June, and I, along with a bunch of my friends, went down to do background work on the film. It was a very warm set–lots of friends, plus Benny directing and Babz’ husband, Larry, as DOP.
Later in the evening, I ended up sitting in holding next to this beautiful red-haired gal, and we struck up a conversation. Turns out we had tons of friends in common, and more so, we shared a deep love for our kids and food. We’ve been hanging out ever since. She even made me this spectacular birthday cake for my party.
So, when she told me she was producing a play, I was so, so in. The play, Dinner With Friends, finishes its run this week, on Nov 24, so you still have time to catch it. Dinner With Friends is a Pulitzer-prize winning play about two couples: Gabe (Noel Johansen) and Karen (Jenn), and Beth (Loretta Walsh) and Tom (Benny). The play begins as Beth and Tom are breaking up, and the show follows how their breakup affects both relationships.
I will just say this: I see a lot of theatre. And much of what I see, I like. But I do enjoy going to the theatre and feeling something. I like the play a lot, but honestly, so much of it made me squirmingly uncomfortable. I know that doesn’t sound like a good thing, but I think unexamined life isn’t worth living, and I found pieces of myself in each of the four characters–pieces I was not always so proud of. The play is all about how we are, how we survive, in long term relationships. There were a lot of triggers.
The play, as the name would indicate, is also deeply centered around the connection of family, friends and food. There is a lot of food in the play, 99% of which Jenn is responsible for making. The lemon polenta cake–to die for. But there is also a pumpkin risotto served onstage, and I knew I had to make that.
Risotto is one of those dishes that is deceptively simple. Simple ingredients go into it, but it can go south really quickly. Don’t cook it enough, you have crunchy rice, leave it too long, you have a gluey porridge.
I had baked, scraped, and pureed one of our Hallowe’en pumpkins (the non-jack-0-lantern one). The problem with using a pumpkin that big, is that they flesh is quite white, and I would have preferred my risotto to have an orangeier-glow. Nevertheless, the addition of pumpkin puree makes for a creamy, lovely risotto.
Pumpkin Risotto (recipe courtesy of Jenn MacLean-Angus)
(for your next dinner with friends)
- 1/2 cup EVOO (or you can do half EVOO and half butter)
- 1 cup finely diced onion (I used one medium)
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic (I used about 4 large cloves–I like it garlicky!)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 6 cups hot vegetable stock (put it in a saucepan on the back of the stove at a simmer)
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 4 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces.
- In a large, heavy pot, heat your olive oil (and butter) over low-medium heat. Add the onion, saute for about 5-10 minutes, then add the garlic until it’s fragrant. Now add the rice, and stir everything up. The rice should get all coated with oil and glisteny. As a rule, I tend to add a bit of salt after every new ingredient.
- Add the white wine and stir, watching carefully until the wine is absorbed. Now, using a ladle, add a scoopfull of the boiling stock to the risotto. It should cover the rice. This is the part where some people say you have to stir all the time. I don’t subscribe to that, but you do have to watch it, and stir it often. This is not the time to check your email (she says, from experience).
When most of the stock is absorbed by the rice, add another scoopful. I also added my pumpkin puree in at this time, in batches, adding some every time I added a fresh ladle-full of stock. Repeat until the rice is soft when you bite it, not entirely mushy, with a tiny bit of resistance in the middle, but not crunchy (ie: al dente). You want the risottto to still be quite loose and not the consistency of porridge. It will get thicker, so it’s better to err on the side of a little extra stock at this point.
- Stir in the pumpkin puree if you haven’t already, then the butter and the Parmesan. Remove from the heat, and allow to stand for a few minutes so everything melts. Taste and adjust seasoning (cheese can be quite salty).
- Serve in individual bowls with a grating of Parmesan, a sprinkle of fresh herbs, and a grind of fresh pepper.