It’s time to talk wine my friends! As I mentioned briefly in my Italy Photo Grid post, I spent part of a day and an overnight in Italian Wine Country. More specifically I got to visit Castello Luzzano (check out this website, it’s beautiful!). That translates into Luzzano Castle in case you were wondering.
I feel like I’ve got to put a disclaimer out there about the whole castle thing before I really get too much further. Here’s the thing, quite a wide variety of buildings in Italy are called castles.
They are not necessarily the medieval-esqe castles most Americans think of when they hear the word.
However, they are locations where back in the day, someone who ruled over the surrounding lands (i.e. a Duke or what not) lived. So indeed castles these buildings are. Though I must admit, when I (being the American I am) look at Castello Luzzano I think manor house not Disney Princess. Ok. I think we can move on from the disclaimer now.
So, there is also a customs house with in walking distance of the castle. Since Castello Luzzano actually sits on the border of three regions, Emilia Romagna, Piedmont, and Lombardy, the big bad Duke who lived there back in the day totally got to tax all the good traveling from region to region. Of course, today Castello Luzzano is a winery and the former customs house is now Dogana inn with a small in house restaurant.
It’s pretty cool that the winery sits right not the border in this way, because this allows them to a lot grow different grapes usually distinct to one particular region. The fields located on the Lombardy side of the property are planted with Barbera, Bonarda, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grape. The fields located on the Emilia Romaga side of the property grow Malvasia, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gutturnio grapes. It’s a lot of variety for one winery!
I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely owner of the winery Giovannella Fugazza, seeing the winery’s inner workings, and of course doing a bit of wine tasting. Giovannella is one heck of a lady!
Her parents actually owned the winery before her. She and her sister grew up helping in the fields and learning some of the work behind wine making. Giovannella told us she and her sister we’re paid to help cut the grapes as kids. However, when Giovannella grew up she left the winery and went to Millan. She worked as a lawyer for a while while her sister took over the winery from their parents. Eventually Giovannella came back to help her sister run the winery. After her sister passed away she continued on, restoring much of the property, building up the business, and learning more about wine production.
Women running a winery in Italy is a relative rarity and took a lot of guts and determination Giovannella and her sister to take it over. They have done an amazing job with the winery. It’s highly successful and produces excellent wines which are sold locally and exported to the U.S. and Canada.
One other thing that interested me about the family is that a number of the members seem to have a real artistic streak. Giovannella paints and has designed a number of the labels for the wine. Her sister’s work is also featured on some of the bottles and advertisements. Giovannella’s uncle also happens to be an artist of some renowned, Brajo Fuso. Fuso was known for making artwork from found materials, and was a pioneer of the technique in Italy. A number of his works can be seen at Castello Luzzano as he gifted them to Giovannella.
I also had the opportunity to stay overnight at Dogana and have dinner at the little restaurant (also known as Dogana). The meal can only be described as phenomenal and I now have several recipes I’d like to replicate. (Veal braised in tomatoes, grilled zucchini brushed with olive oil, roasted potatoes, pumpkin risotto…) So for today at least the Pumpkin Risotto.
Honestly, I’m not really a pumpkin person. I like roasted pumpkin seeds and over the years I have come to like pumpkin pie quite a bit; but there my positive feelings for pumpkin end. I’m not into pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin muffins (though I do have a pretty good recipe for them on the site if you’ve got to have them), or pretty much anything else pumpkin. I would have never, never, ever, in a million years ever tried to put pumpkin in a savory dish like pasta or risotto before my trip to Italy.
But, when in Rome; or in this case when in Emilia Romagna, eat what the Emilia Romagna-ians feed you. And since I was served Risotto with pumpkin, I ate it. And guess what? It was sooooo good. So, even you pumpkin haters or think pumpkin+savory=weird give this one a try.
The pumpkin risotto we were served was perfectly creamy, gently flavored with the pumpkin, meaning the pumpkin didn’t at all overwhelm the dish. Plus the risotto has clearly been finished with a generous sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano which I love.
To the best of my understanding the specific type of pumpkin I had in Italy is pretty much exclusive to that particular area. So in my recreation of the dish I had adapt to work with the type of pumpkins we have here in the states (or wherever you happen to be reading).
I would not put a carving pumpkin with in three feet of this risotto. Carving pumpkins are not bread for taste, i.e. they are yucky and will not give you risotto awesomeness. Our best bet in the states is to use a pie pumpkin (though I think our pie pumpkins are a touch sweeter then what I tasted in Italy). Another good option would be to use butternut squash, though this is of course not quite the same either as it’s missing the hint of sweet the risotto in Italy had. But that’s ok, we’ll make the pumpkin risotto our own and work with what we have here! I will say I’ve tried the dish at home with both pie pumpkins and butternut squash. Both are very tasty, if not an identical replication of what I found in Italy.
Of course the risotto I had at Dogana was cooked in the proper Italian way: al dente. Al dente means ” with tooth” in Italian. According to our lovely, knowledgable (and very opinionated) guide Simona, risotto absolutely must be cooked al dente. It is sacrilege, blasphemy, and a crime agains humanity to cook it any other way. It would be very reasonable to chop off fingers for making a mushy risotto.
From what I gathered during my trip there is actually a range of “toothsome” that is all considered al dente. By al dente, some Italians mean just shy of crunchy. Others mean, with some chew left to the rice or pasta. It appears to be a preference based kind of thing. Though most definitively rice or pasta will never be served mushy. (Seriously watch your fingers if you dare to serve mushy pasta.) The one thing I will tell you, is that any Italian you speak with will vehemently assure you that whatever their particular preference happens to be is the absolutely only correct way to serve said dish.
Backing up my experience, Marcella Hazan notes in her cookbook The Esentials of Italian Cooking that, “Some Italian cooks like the grains in risotto to be exceptionally firm, and suggest cooking times between 18-20 minutes. At that stage, the center of the kernel is chalky hard. If you find a chalky sensation unappealing, as I do, expect to cook the rice another 5 to 10 minutes, for a total of 25 minutes to half an hour.” I would venture a guess that most Americans are not used to eating their rice al dente to the point of a chalky center; so the cooking time I suggested in my recipe is 25-30 minutes. If you think you’d prefer the crunchier version feel free to subtract 5-10 minutes of cook time.
One last note before I get to the recipe. Risottos come in two basic styles. The first style all’onda (which means wavy) from Veneto where the rice grains are less stuck together and the over all dish is a touch runnier. The second style yields a stickier, less liquid-y risotto which found in the Piedmont, Lombardy, and Emilia Romagna regions. Since I was literally on the boarder of these three regions you can guess which style I’ve steered you towards in my recipe….
And finally the recipe!
Roasted Pumpkin or Butternut Squash Risotto- Serves 4-6. Adapted from The Esentials of Italian Cooking.
- one small pie pumpkin or butternut squash
- generous drizzle of olive oil
- 5 cups of beef or chicken broth (Preferably homemade, but if using canned use one cup of canned broth and dilute with 4 cups of water.)
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons minced onion
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- fresh ground black pepper to taste
- sea salt to taste
- 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano + additional to garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 400*. Prepare the pumpkin or butternut squash by cleaning, slicing in half, scooping out the seeds, and placing on a parchment paper line baking sheet. Drizzle the inside of the pumpkin or squash generously with olive oil. Bake at 400* until the pumpkin fragrant and tender (this should take about an hour but may longer depending on the size of your pumpkin or squash.) It is ok if the pumpkin becomes browned during cooking.
2. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and allow to cool until comfortable to touch. When cool enough to handle use a spoon to scoop the insides of the pumpkin or squash into a bowl. Use the spoon to smash up the pumpkin until a chunky mash is formed. Set aside, but place near the stove for easy reaching when cooking the risotto.
3. In a medium sized pot heat the five cups of broth to boiling and reduce to a gentle simmer.
4. Place a second (preferably wide) pot on the stove. Put one tablespoon of the butter and olive oil and minced onion in the pot and adjust to medium high heat. Sauté the onion until until translucent, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Then add the rice to the pot to toast. Stir close to continuously to prevent the rice from burning.
5. When the rice is lightly golden brown add about 1/2 cup of the pumpkin mash to the pot.
6. Immediately add one ladle full (about 1/2 cup) of the hot broth to the rice stirring quickly and continuously until all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Be particularly careful to dislodge the rice from the bottom of the pan when string or it will stick and burn.
7. When the liquid is fully absorbed add an additional ladle (1/2 cup) of broth to the pot again. Continue to stir as described in step six.
8. Repeat steps six and seven for about 20 minutes. At this point begin to taste the risotto before adding additional broth. The rice is done when tender but a little bit of chew left to the rice. The grains will stick together. Continue adding broth until this point is reached. Depending on conditions in your kitchen it may take up to an additional 10 minutes. You may end up using all five cups of broth or you may have some leftover. If you run out of broth before the desire texture has been reached use water to finish.
9. When you are getting close to the correct texture start to reduce the amount of liquid added to the pan each time. The final result should be moist but not too runny. When the rice is very close to being cooked add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and the last two tablespoons of butter. Stir well. Add pepper and salt to taste. Stir well and remove from the heat. Transfer to a serving platter, or portion into individual dishes. Garnish with additional grated Parmigiano Reggiano if desired. Serve immediately.
Note: This trip was fully paid for by Emilia Romagna Region Tourist Board. However, any opinions expressed here are my own.