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Matchmaker: Pumpkin Risotto and California Sauvignon Blanc

Halloween's favorite vegetable lights up with a bright white

Nick Fauchald
Posted: October 26, 2004

Most pumpkins are destined for a crooked smile and the front porch. But pick the right one, and it will be just as delightful transformed into a spicy risotto perfect for Halloween dinner.

When choosing a pumpkin for cooking, skip the jumbo-sized varieties, which are less flavorful and are aptly named for their intended purpose (Funny Face, Jack-O-Lantern and Ghost Rider are among popular carving varieties). Smaller pumpkins (5 lbs. or less) are more tender and flavorful, and their names fit their destiny as well (Sugar Treat, Cheese, or New England Pie pumpkins are my favorites for cooking). Don't be afraid to ask your grocer or farmer which pumpkins are the tastiest; nobody expects you to distinguish between a Buckskin and a Howden Field.

Wine Pairing

This simple risotto preparation lets the pumpkin's sweetness take center stage, and the wine you drink with it should do the same. A sweeter white, such as Riesling or Gewürztraminer, might overpower the pumpkin, and most Chardonnays would be too rich for a creamy dish loaded with cheese and butter.

A light- to medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc is bright and juicy and will balance the pumpkin's gentle sweetness yet while providing enough backbone to cut through the spicy pumpkin seeds. A traditional favorite with goat cheese, the Sauvignon Blanc's herbaceous notes will enhance the chèvre's herby character. California-style Sauvignon Blanc, which tends to have more moderate levels of acidity and a touch of oak, will cut through creamy dishes without the extra tartness brought by a high-acid Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or the Loire Valley.

Recipe: Pumpkin Risotto with Curried Pumpkin Seeds and Goat Cheese Croutons
Serves 4 as main dish, 6 as an accompaniment

Anyone who's carved a geometric visage knows that pumpkins are tough and can be difficult to prepare for cooking. I recommend first cutting the pumpkin into eighths -- like you would a melon -- and then scooping out the seeds and pulp and cutting out the flesh with a sharp paring knife.

1 3-5 lb. pumpkin (preferably Sugar Treat or New England Pie), peeled, seeded and chopped into 1-inch cubes (you need about 3 cups diced pumpkin for this recipe). If all you have available is canned pumpkin puree, skip this recipe and make a pumpkin pie.
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups carnaroli or Arborio rice
1 small onion, finely diced
1/3 cup white wine (whatever you're drinking with dinner)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

For the curried pumpkin seeds:
Reserved pumpkin seeds, rinsed free of pumpkin goop and drained
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the croutons:
8 slices French bread
1/2 cup crumbled chèvre goat cheese, mixed with a teaspoon of olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bring stock to a slow simmer in a saucepan.

Heat oil in a large sauté pan or Dutch oven and add 3 cups pumpkin cubes. Sauté for 1 minute, add one cup stock and simmer, covered, until very tender, about 20 minutes. Stir and mash with a spoon until smooth and set aside.

Meanwhile, toss pumpkin seeds with oil, spices and salt in a bowl. Place on a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet and roast until crispy, about 15-25 minutes. Allow to cool.

While the seeds are roasting, place sliced bread on another baking sheet and toast until slightly crisp, about 5 minutes per side. Remove from oven, spread with goat cheese and crank some coarsely ground black pepper over the top. Return to oven and bake until cheese is melted.

To prepare the risotto, heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon to coat the kernels with fat. Add white wine and cook for one minute. Add one ladle of simmering stock at a time, making sure to wait until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Keep the rice moving to ensure it cooks evenly, but there's no need to stir violently. Your arm will get tired.

Taste a bit of rice every couple of minutes. After about 15-20 minutes it should be creamy and almost al dente (you'll probably have some stock left over). Lower the heat and gently fold in pumpkin puree, heavy cream, 1 tablespoon butter and the goat cheese. Remove from heat and season to taste.

Garnish risotto with the pumpkin seeds and the croutons and serve immediately.

Wines

Wine Score Price
BLACKSTONE Sauvignon Blanc Monterey County 2003 88 $11
Serves up an impressive range of concentrated fig, melon, hay and apple tones that stay vibrant and intense through a lively, delineated finish. Drink now through 2005. 30,000 cases made.
 
MARKHAM Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2003 88 $14
Focused and vibrant, with excellent intensity to lemon-lime, honeysuckle and fig flavors, framed by lively acidity and a lingering grassiness. Drink now through 2005. 36,500 cases made. --J.L.
 
HONIG Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2003 86 $14
Fig, honey and melon flavors have fine concentration and vanilla undertones, with good weight to hay and orange peel notes in the lively finish. Drink now. 15,000 cases made.
 
KENWOOD Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2003 86 $11
Delivers intense, focused flavors of grass, grapefruit and green apple. Tart acidity lingers. Drink now through 2005. 76,000 cases made.
 
GEYSER PEAK Sauvignon Blanc California 2003 85 $12
Refreshing, with melon, grass and lemon flavors that are round and fleshy, ending with a touch of citrus acidity. Drink now. 75,000 cases made. --J.L.
 

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