Risotto alla zucca

Risotto alla «zucca» (Pumpkin Risotto)

In Fall, primi piatti, Risotto and Other Rice Dishes, Winter by Frank37 Comments

Risotto alla zucca, or pumpkin risotto, is one of the most popular autumn and winter risottos. Zucca is Italian for pumpkin, but Italian pumpkins are quite different from their American cousins: their taste is more intense and much sweeter, their texture finer, less fibrous. Most recipes aimed at the non-Italian cook recommend substituting butternut squash, but, truth be told, most butternut squash I have been able to find in the US is rather bland in flavor and slightly gritty in texture. It pales in comparison with zucca.

I have tried various stratagems to coax some extra flavor from butternut squash—by roasting it, by simmering it in broth, by braising it in butter. All of these improve things and, if you use a rich broth, plenty of onion for the soffritto and ample parmesan cheese for the mantecura to make up for the flavor deficit, you can wind up with an agreeable finished product. But the fact remains, butternut squash risotto doesn’t really taste like a true risotto alla zucca.

So what to do? Having tried various kinds of winter squashes without finding an adequate substitute for zucca, I finally tried something completely different that I had stumbled upon in the market: baby sweet potatoes, usually marketed as ‘baby yams’. Eureka! While the taste isn’t quite the same, baby yams share the intense sweetness and velvety texture of the zucca I had known in the ‘Old Country’, producing a risotto that was remarkably like a true risotto alla zucca. The only downside is that baby yams don’t appear in the markets until well into November, so you’ll have to wait a bit longer before you can enjoy this seasonal dish.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  •  500g (1 lb) risotto rice
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 250g (1/2 lb) baby yams, peeled and cubed
  • A splash of white wine
  • Broth, q.b.
  • Butter
  • 75g (4 oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

So there you have it: just make the risotto as you normally would, starting with a soffritto of onion sautéed in butter. Here you want only butter, and a lot of it, to underscore the sweetness that is characteristic of the dish.

Then add your baby yams, peeled and cut into small dice, and allow them to sauté gently to soak up the aromas of the seasoned butter (insaporire).

Proceed in the usual manner: Toast your rice, then add successively a splash of white wine, then ladlefuls of broth, letting each evaporate before adding the next.

At the end of cooking, add the grated Parmesan and a dab of sweet butter and stir vigorously for about a minute, off heat. The yams will have dissolved completely into the risotto, lending their sweet flavor, lovely golden color and a subtle, velvety texture to the rice.

Serve your risotto alla zucca immediately.

Notes

Risotto alla «zucca»Although I have used the term ‘yam’ in this post, true yams are a tropical vegetable grown mostly in Africa and the Caribbean. Sweet potatoes, which are widely cultivated in North America, are not related botanically to yams. But growers of sweet potatoes decided to call them yams as a marketing device, to distinguish them from regular potatoes and from a firmer fleshed varietal of sweet potato that had previously predominated the US market.

There are several varietals of the Italian zucca but all fall under the botanical species of cucurbita maxima. Pumpkins grown in the US are of the same genus cucurbita and various species, including cucurbita maxima, are cultivated here. So it is a mystery to me why there is such a difference in taste and texture between those grown in Italy and those in the US. If anyone can enlighten me, I would be much obliged!

Risotto alla «zucca» (Pumpkin Risotto)

Rating: 51

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 500g (1 lb) risotto rice
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 250g (1/2 lb) baby yams, peeled and cubed
  • A splash of white wine
  • Broth, q.b.
  • Butter
  • 75g (4 oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. So there you have it: just make the risotto as you normally would, starting with a soffritto of onion sautéed in butter. Here you want only butter, and a lot of it, to underscore the sweetness that is characteristic of the dish.
  2. Then add your baby yams, peeled and cut into small dice, and allow them to sauté gently to soak up the aromas of the seasoned butter (insaporire).
  3. Then proceed in the usual manner, toasting your rice, then adding successively a splash of white wine, then ladlefuls of broth, letting each evaporate before adding the next.
  4. At the end of cooking, add the grated parmesan and a dab of sweet (preferably cultured) butter and stir vigorously for about a minute off heat. The yams will have dissolved completely into the risotto, lending its sweet flavor, lovely golden color and a subtle, velvety texture to the rice.
  5. Serve your risotto alla zucca immediately.
http://memoriediangelina.com/2009/11/23/risotto-alla-zucca/

Comments

  1. Pingback: Risotto: The Basic Recipe | Memorie di Angelina

  2. Frank… great dish!!!

    You have my curiosity piqued about the zucca tho… do you have a stateside resource for good zucca seed?

  3. Thankfully we do have those pumpkins called zucca in Italy here as well:):) We’re so excited to try out your recipe with the authentic ingredients Frank!
    Thank you for another Italian treat!

  4. Never would have thought to use yams of any age to make risotto, Frank. I will now, though, for I’m not very happy with the flavor of fresh pumpkin, like others have mentioned. Cannot wait to give this a try! Thanks!

  5. Genius regarding the baby yams, I will substitute them for what I have been using which is butternut squash. Ample seasoning helps, but you are spot on regarding the lack of flavor in comparison to the Italian varietals.

  6. I have to say that the pumpkin grower at our market may be growing the real thing, and I am wondering if it will taste as good. One theory for you – the terroir. If it affects grapes and wine, why not the zucca and your risotto? I will try this with the baby yams. (By the way, aside from me and Mark, you are the only person I know who discusses yams vs. sweet potatoes. Mark always starts by saying we have probably never seen a real yam in this country!)

    1. Author

      Mark is probably right about yams, although I wonder if you might not be able to find them in some ethnic markets. As for zucca, I think your theory makes a lot of sense. What other explanation could there be? The differences in taste between fruits and vegetables in the US and in Italy sometimes relates to the way they’re grown. Here fruits, in particular, are picked while still green so they can be transported long distances, as you probably know. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with pumpkins, which are more fibrous, suggesting that they’ve been left on the vine for a longer, not shorter time.

  7. I find a lot of fresh pumpkin to be rather bland — although sometimes you find an exceptional one. Rather hit or miss, alas, and mainly miss. So when it comes to pumpkin, the last couple of years I’ve been using canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix). Love the idea of sweet potatoes. Heck, I’d even use mature sweet potatoes in this — bet they’d be good, although of course the flavor would be different. Good dish — thanks.

  8. it looks really good. I am making tortelli alla zucca right now and I was checking the usual suspects, in Italian and in English: Hazan, Del Conte, Il talismano, ecc… all the “big books”…. Hazan recommends yam too actually… to be honest I had never noticed any real difference between the butternuts I can buy here and the pumpkins I used to buy in Italy…… anyway: after checking Hazan and now reading yr comments I too will try the yam trick, to see if there is any marked difference. great post, as usual. s

      1. I have tried and… u r right! adding “yam” makes for a fuller flavor and better, silkier, somehow denser consistency. thanks for the tip!

  9. Genius! I love the way you discovered baby yams are the way to go! I love any kind of risotto, so will look out for this veggie (don’t think I’ve ever seen them before, but maybe because I wasn’t looking?)

    1. Author

      Thanks, Christina! Baby yams are pretty easy to find here in the colder weather months. Perhaps they’re not popular on the West Coast?

  10. Thanks for a great recipe once again. I will look for the baby yams!

    In the meantime, have you tried Buttercup (not butterNUT) squash? It is a little grainy but has much better flavor than butternut, and it isn’t stringy at all. I wonder how that squash compares in taste to a true zucca.

    1. Author

      Yes, they’re definitely an improvement on butternut or pumpkin, but still not quite up there with zucca, in my opinion.

  11. Here in Montréal we also have French potirons and potimarrons (the chestnut-flavoured variety and my favourite squash) which are much closer to the Italian zucca. I bought them in my neighbourhood at Jean-Talon Market. I’ve also made gnocchi with them.

    Three are adorning my kitchen table right now.

  12. Pingback: Tortelli di zucca (Homemade Pumpkin Ravioli) | Memorie di Angelina

  13. My trick (as seen in La Cucina Italian) is to use milk instead of broth to cook the risotto. It turns out super creamy and super sweet and often makes up for the not so creamy butternut squash….

  14. Hello Frank, Great blog! I love to use pumpkin also but have found the stuff here in the US not great. In Australia I use a Queensland Blue and have found a similar pumpkin here called Jarandale which you might find suitable. Not sure were you are in the US… we are in Oklahoma and can only usually find Jarandale during the Fall. Cheers for now, Colleen (aka CakeArtisan)

  15. Hi Frank
    in france we have potimarron which must be close to your zucca as it is a small pumpkin with a chestnut flavour !
    thanks for the sahring and I always do the “mantecarra” as I have been taught by italian friends ! ciao PIerre

  16. @Kathleen, I will definitely try those smaller pumpkins–thanks for the tip. I have used various kinds of winter squash with varying degrees of success but, as mentioned, nothing I've tried so far has quite hit the mark as well as baby yams. But the experiments continue!

    @Tanya, I just add them raw, some recipes do call for simmering or roasting your zucca beforehand to concentrate flavor and soften them so they more readily absorb the flavors of the soffritto. Personally, I find that it does not make enough of a difference to justify the extra step.

  17. Yay, I've been looking for this kind of recipe for a while. Do you cook the yams/sweet potatoes first? Or just put them in raw? Will be trying a vegan version of this!

  18. Do you use carving pumpkins or pie pumpkins in your US experiments? These are smaller pumpkins, usually with cream-colored skin, that make excellent pie, whereas the larger orange jack-o-lantern pumpkins (and their babies, which are sometimes picked little and marketed as “pie pumpkins”) are stringy and rather flavorless.

    They are all in the same species, just different varieties.

    I am wondering whether Delicata squash would work – it would have the texture but perhaps not the intense flavor.

    Yams/sweet potatoes would be incredibly good. Thinking of going to the farmer's market for some locally grown NC baby sweet potatoes this morning to try out your recipe!

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