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COLUMN from CRYSTAL SMITH: This Installment / Pumpkin Risotto

by Crystal Smith

Oct. 12, 2012. It’s been over a month since I last posted a recipe. I’m still cooking, I promise. I’ve just been very busy with, well life I guess. I imagine you can relate. The most exciting thing I’ve been working on is a teacher training that I’m doing with Asheville Yoga Center. I’ve practiced yoga for several years and have grown to love, even crave my time on the mat.

I signed up for the training several months ago without any real expectations of what it would be like. I recently came back from the first of nine weekends that I’ll be spending in Asheville and it was amazing! When I drove into town Friday afternoon, it was the most perfect fall day I’ve ever seen and Asheville is the perfect place to be on a perfect fall day. I then spent three days in my bliss. I crave movement, challenge, and growth and the weekend was full of all of these things for both my body and my mind.

The biggest gift I’ve taken from the weekend is a bit of peace. We tend to spend a great deal of time worrying about things that have already happened or might happen in the future. I am the first to do so. I can’t even begin to remember all the time I’ve needlessly spent in angst about things that I either had no control over or that had already passed. I imagine that stress will always be present in our lives to some extent, at least until we do away with our iPhones. However, it’s nice to know that we have tools to limit the extent to which it pervades our lives. Do you have a tool? If not, maybe you can look for yours. I don’t know what they are for everyone, but I suspect that most tools involve stopping for a moment in the midst of all the commotion.

Since we are talking about perfect fall weather, I give you the perfect fall risotto. It’s not a traditional risotto because I use pearled barley instead of Arborio rice. (Thanks to Heidi for that idea!) It is simple and comforting on a chilly fall day and the edible pumpkin bowls are as delicious as they are adorable. (Yes, you should eat the mini pumpkin.) Risotto requires about 30 minutes of mindless stirring, a perfect time to hit the pause button.

I had a bit of risotto left over and stirred some spinach in while reheating it and loved it, stir a bit in at the end if you want to add some greens.

6 miniature pumpkins 

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

6 cups of vegetable stock

1 cup dry white wine

1 ½-2 pounds pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into ¾ inch cubes 

2 cups pearled barley

½ cup Parmesan cheese

¼ cup crème fraiche

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Fill a roasting pan with about ½ inch water, place miniature pumpkins in the pan, cover. Roast 45 minutes or until very tender. Turn oven up to 400 degrees F. Cool pumpkins slightly. Cut out the tops and scoop out the seeds. Set aside until risotto is finished.

Put cubed pumpkin on a sheet pan and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast at 400 for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring once, until very tender.

While the pumpkin is roasting, heat the vegetable stock in a small saucepan and leave it simmering.

Put 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and sauté the onion and shallot on medium heat for about 3 minutes, add the garlic and sauté another minute or so, until it has all softened. Add the barley and stir until it’s coated with the olive oil. Add the white wine and allow to simmer until the barley has absorbed most of the wine. Adjust the heat at this time and add about 1 cup of stock and allow to simmer gently. 

Add more stock, 1 cup at a time, allowing the barley to absorb most of the liquid before adding more. This should take between 30 and 40 minutes. It won’t be exactly like Arborio rice, it will seem a bit heartier and chewier.

When the barley has absorbed all the stock, remove it from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and crème fraiche. Add more salt and pepper if you’d like to at this point. Spoon into the pumpkin “bowls” and serve with an extra dusting of Parmesan cheese.

Serves 6.