Dinner Rush! Pumpkin Risotto with Pancetta & Arugula

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For the longest time, risotto was one of those dishes I waited to order until I went out to eat at a great Italian restaurant. I always knew that I liked it — it was just never on my radar to make at home. Maybe it was the perception that it was difficult? Maybe its short cooking time seemed too good to be true, like I was leaving out some crucial step? Maybe I yearned for and was equally terrified by the amount of cheese and butter that goes into it?

I’m proud to say all of that is behind me now. And if I’m down with making a weeknight risotto dinner, then you should be too. Still unsure? Let’s address the aforementioned fears:

Risotto seems hard to make. Straight-up lies. It’s rice that gets stirred a bunch while it's simmering on the stove. At its simplest, risotto can be made with merely rice, stock, butter and cheese. That’s four ingredients. I think we can all manage that successfully.

Risotto takes forever to cook. More lies. The rice will be tender after about 15 minutes of simmering in the stock. But what about having to stir it constantly? A trio of lies. While it’s a good idea to stir the risotto often (every 60 to 90 seconds or so), you can give your shoulders a break with the endless stirring.

Risotto is loaded with butter and cheese. Finally a truth bomb! It’s a combination of the rice’s natural starch and the deliciousness of butter and cheese that creates risotto’s signature creamy consistency. Could you dial back on all that? I suppose. But why don’t you just do us both a solid and go full throttle in moderation? Everything tastes better that way.

Pumpkin Risotto with Pancetta & Arugula
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Active Time: 27 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
4 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 (1/4-inch-thick) slices pancetta, chopped (about 1/2 pound)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional for garnish

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and ground black pepper
1 small bunch arugula, washed (about 3 cups)

Place a medium pot over medium-high heat with the stock or broth. Bring the liquid up to a simmer and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Reserve warm.

Place a large high-sided pan over medium heat with the olive oil and pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered from the pancetta and the meat is crisp and golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and reserve on a paper towel-lined plate. Pour out all but about 3 tablespoons of fat from the pan.

Return the pan to medium heat and add in the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, 30 seconds. Add the Arborio rice to the pan and cook, stirring often, for 1 minute.

Ladle about a third of the warm chicken stock into the pan with the rice and cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Add another third of the stock into the pan and continue to cook the rice, stirring often, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes more. Add the remaining chicken stock to the pan and cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 5 minutes more.

Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the pumpkin puree, cheese, butter, and some salt and pepper. Vigorously stir the finished risotto for about 30 seconds until it looks glossy and develops a creamy consistency. Immediately serve the risotto topped with the reserved crispy pancetta, a handful of arugula and (if desired) some additional grated cheese.

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Marc Forgione and Bobby Deen, he now works as a food writer and content producer in NYC by day and a recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following him on Twitter and Instagram at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website, patrickwdecker.com.

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