I need to begin this post by sending out a huge thank you to so many of you, from all around the world, for the wonderful thoughtfulness and kind wishes that you have kept coming my way since the Christchurch earthquake back in February.
It has been an extremely traumatic and disturbing time, and your constant messages have truly kept me going. We lost our home and our beautiful yoga school as a result of the earthquake, and have literally had to start building a completely new life for ourselves. I can tell you that when you are in your mid-50s; when the youthful part of you, who would once have thought this was an exciting new challenge, has been replaced by the wiser and more sensible one who knows it is just going to be damned hard work; when your nerves are so shot to pieces that you think just the rumble of a truck going past is the beginning of another earthquake - the world begins to feel like a very scarey place.
And then, just when you are wondering what the hell is going to become of your life, the blogging world opens its arms, and a complete stranger out there in the blogosphere does something wonderful and heart-warming and remarkable. Right when I was at a pretty low ebb, the lovely Alli of Pease Pudding (who I'd never met, but we'd connected a few times by visiting and commenting on each others blogs - as you do) emailed me and said that she had a flat attached to her cooking school (The Gourmet Gannet at Muriwai Beach) if I would like to come up and have a break away from Christchurch. Well, by this stage we were already thinking that a move to Auckland (my old home-town) was the only option for us, so I emailed Alli back and, long-story-cut-short, she and Phelan have truly opened their hearts and home to us and enabled us to stay in their flat until we find a permanent home in Auckland. To say that we are enormously grateful, is a gross understatement - we will forever be indebted for their kindness, and I hope that at some time in the future the opportunity will arise to repay some of that kindness in some way, by being as open-hearted and generous as they have been, to someone in need.
Oh, and did I mention the kitchen? Let me repeat - this flat is Alli's cooking school = chef's kitchen!! In my last kitchen - the one decimated by the earthquake (perhaps not so sadly, on reflection) - the sum total of my cooking equipment was: one solid hot-plate element, slightly rusty (repeat one!); a tiny "toastie" oven; a microwave; a Breville electric grill; and a crock-pot. Seriously - that was it - no surprise, now that you know, that I considered myself the queen of the one-pot-wonder!! Consequently, I now think that I have died and gone to kitchen-heaven - now that I'm here, Alli may not be able to move me on so quickly!! (It's ok, Alli, just joking)
And, thanks to having the opportunity to cook in this wonderful kitchen, and to relax and unwind in this beautiful part of the world, my "cooking mojo" which had seriously deserted me is slowly returning. Probably not at all surprisingly, I have done a lot of "comfort eating" since the earthquake; there have been occasions when I couldn't be bothered to cook, so have had toast instead, or crisps, or something else really crappy; and there have been innumerable "fails". But each day a little enthusiasm and confidence returns, and the other night I turned to this risotto which is one of my all-time favourites, and is especially good on a cool autumn evening. Yes this is definitely comfort food, and this variation is probably my go-to risotto - the one that I make over and over again; the one that never fails to warm my heart; the one that I can make with my eyes closed; the one that I make by instinct; the one that I want to share with you, if I can just put that into a recipe ....
Roasted Pumpkin, Pancetta & Pistachio Risotto Recipe
Makes 2 generous servings
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
2 to 3 cups diced pumpkin (about 2.5cm/1" dice)
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper
6 slices pancetta, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 generous handfuls of arborio rice (see note * below)
1/2 glass of white wine (see note ** below)
3 to 4 cups of chicken stock, hot
bunch fresh thyme leaves (about 2 tablespoons of leaves)
butter - a generous "glob"
freshly grated parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
generous handful pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
extra parmesan and thyme sprigs to finish
Note *: If you plan on increasing this recipe to feed more people, I use the Gordon Ramsay method for measuring arborio rice, which is one large handful for each person plus one for the pot - hence 3 handfuls for two people
Note **: If I don't want to open a bottle of wine for this, I often substitute 1/2 glass of vermouth mixed with the juice of 1/2 a lemon
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C (425 F). Meanwhile line a baking tray with parchment paper and dice the pumpkin. Toss the diced pumpkin with a little olive oil, sprinkle with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and spread out in a single layer on the lined baking tray. Place in the preheated oven and cook until the pumpkin is golden brown and starting to soften (probably around 20-30 minutes, depending on the pumpkin). Remove from the oven and set aside.
Heat a little olive oil (about a tablespoon) in a heavy based pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until golden brown and crispy. Remove from the pan (leaving as much of the fat behind as possible), and place on a paper towel to drain.
Return the pan to the heat - you will want about two tablespoons of fat in the pan so, depending on how much fat was rendered from the pancetta, you may or may not need to add more olive oil to the pan. Add the shallot and garlic to the pan - cooking until the shallot and garlic just begin to soften - take care not to burn the garlic - almost as soon as you can smell the garlic it is time to add the rice to the pan. Also add in one-third of the thyme leaves. Continue cooking the rice with the shallot and garlic, stirring constantly, until every single grain of rice is coated with the oil - it will take on a kind of translucent look around the edges and will start to "squeak".
Now is the time to add the wine, and continue stirring until virtually all the wine has been absorbed by the rice. Then begin to add the chicken stock, one ladleful at a time - stirring constantly until each ladleful has been absorbed before adding the next. (Note: You may want to turn your heat down during this process - sorry but you really have to feel and guage this for yourself, and a lot will depend on your pan, type of element/heat, etc - again, I apologise that I can't be more precise, but risotto-making is not an exact science - you really have to "feel" it.)
All of this stirring and adding of stock is going to take around 20 minutes, and in that time the grains of rice will swell up dramatically. Round about the 15 minute mark, have a taste test - once the grains are still a bit chalky, but taste as if they might not have too much longer to go, add in the pumpkin. You don't want to put the pumpkin in too early, otherwise it just turns to mush. On the other hand, I like to incorporate it before the risotto is finished cooking, so it amalgamates with the rice more than if it was just stirred through at the end.
Once the rice is cooked add another half ladle of stock, stir it through, and turn off the heat (don't worry if it seems a bit "soupy" - this extra stock will be absorbed during the resting time and the finished risotto should definitely not be "dry"). Add the pancetta, balance of thyme leaves, butter and parmesan cheese. Season generously with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine, then cover and leave to rest for 5 minutes to enable all the flavours to infuse.
Lastly, stir in the chopped pistachios and serve immediately, with a grating of parmesan over the top and some extra sprigs of thyme.
I hope you give this comforting and heart-warming dish a try, and enjoy it as much as I frequently do.
Thank you again to all of you for your kind thoughts and messages and for having the patience to keep visiting my blog while I've been trying to get my life back together again. Your love and support has reinforced for me the knowledge that this blog is not so much about trying to churn out great food and photos as it is about making those connections with each and everyone of you. A true reminder that our humanity grows when we understand and embrace the fact that we are all connected.