Meat the Change with Ark of Taste Pumpkin Risotto

The Slow Food defense of traditional animal agriculture begins with the premise that one should consume better meat, but less of it in our weekly diet. 

This healthy tension between “better and less” meat stands precisely upon the land we — as a movement — inhabit. Yes, we believe that when more animals are on the ground (instead of in confinement), it is good for ecosystems, animals and us. However, this does not imply that we should consume meat everyday and at every meal. This sits well with our championing of traditional foods. Placing beans, legumes and seasonal vegetables front and center. It also speaks to our balance for pleasure with responsibility. 

As such, one of the important goals with Meat the Change is to break free from the culture of confinement. This is what the industrial food system imposes upon our consumer choices, upon animals, and upon rural economies. The efficiencies of scale and speed demand that more and more animals are squeezed into less space. Farmers have fewer options to sell their animals (for less financial return); and we grow used to the prices and flavor of industrial meat. Over time, this meat works its way into every meal. Meanwhile, the traditional animal husbandry systems collapse beneath the competitive pressure of cheap meat. 

 

This is why it is so critical to liberate ourselves from that culture of confinement. As with vegetables, dairy, seafood and grains, know from where your meat comes.

Seek out farmers who sell directly and butchers who have direct relations with farmers who have not been swept up into the “bigger is better” economy. Ask questions.

Will the better meat cost more? Yes, it most certainly will.

How can you afford to purchase it? For one, cut out the middleman and purchase directly from the farmer. Two, learn how to cook with some of the cheaper cuts, organs, tongue, etc. Three, use all of the meat you purchase: For instance, make stock with leftover meat, flavor soup or beans with bones. And, four, eat meat less often. 

This final step should not be a drudgery. Rather, going meatless should be a joy. There are so many dishes you already love that are meatless. You simply may not think of them that way. If  you are intimidated, Slow Food is here to help with simple, iconic meatless meals to assist you in the reduction of meat (without reducing pleasure, flavor and fun). 

What is Meatless Monday?

Slow Food chefs and home cooks all over the planet are joining in on this simple weekly commitment to replace meat on the menu with vegetables, legumes and beans. Historically, the start of the week (like the start of the year) is a great moment in time to make behavior changes. These are personal decisions, but they are also collective, political decisions. In New York City, after considerable lobbying led by parents and students alike, Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced Meatless Monday to the entire city’s public school district. After a successful 2018 pilot in 15 Brooklyn school cafeterias, concerns for climate and chronic diseases made it go citywide. Staten Island Borough President James Oddo endorsed the move in his admittedly conservative island: “Look at the data. Look at … childhood obesity. Look at pre-diabetes diagnoses… Then, perhaps you will embrace the fact that we can’t keep doing things the same way.”

In China, Slow Food Great China joined forces with the Good Food Fund to promote a Meatless Monday start to the New Year — the Year of the Rat — with a culinary contest featuring more than a dozen Ark of Taste vegetables. With its massive population and penchant for growth and a growing taste for industrial meat, China is one of the important battlelines to Meat the Change. Using the climate calculator developed by Johns Hopkins’s Center for a Livable Future, we took a look at what the impact would be for Chinese consumers to go meatless one day a week. 

The culinary contest took place in Xinzhuang village. It is situated in the Changpin district of 1,098,000 people. If everyone living in Changpin embraces Meatless Monday for the entire 2020, it would result in a reduction of 75,432,600 kg of CO2e. This is equivalent to the amount of emissions associated with 405,610,492 passenger air miles. In other words, make Mondays meatless and reduce what amounts to the same CO2 emissions as 29,632 round trips to and from Beijing and New York City.

Change is hard. Right? Working families are short on time, money and know-how to change diets. If this is true, then all the more reason to rally around Meatless Monday as a shared activity to honor and revive traditional recipes that put vegetables at the center of the meal. Every culture has them: From Veracruz’s Moros y Christianos (Black beans and rice) served with fried plantains, to Sicily’s Spaghetti con Muddica (breadcrumbs to represent sawdust for the day commemorating St. Joseph, the Worker). 

 

Brown Butter Pumpkin Risotto

Serves 4

Join us to revive traditional vegetarian recipes, update them to meet the current constraints of time, money and a climate emergency. Go meatless one day, so you can afford the better meat on other days. This is why it makes sense to Slow Down for Meatless Monday. Share your dishes online with the hashtags #MeatlessMonday and #MeattheChange. Share your region’s recipes with us for future postings. And if it contains Ark of Taste ingredients, even better!

To get us started, I have selected a recipe whose popularity has moved from the restaurant table to the device championed by many busy people: The Instant Pot. It is one of the recent countertop devices to take the world by storm. Though I am deeply suspicious of these newfangled kitchen tools, I wanted to give it a chance. Sifting through online recipes, one promised to deliver risotto in under 20 minutes. If you work long hours, raise kids, then this could be a lifesaver (especially if the alternative is to order in food, eat out and other expensive and unhealthy alternatives). Rice is affordable, even if it is one of the treasured Ark of Taste varieties.

Risotto works precisely because of short grain rice (like Arborio rice) absorbs less liquid resulting in a stickier risotto.

For rice that is about as starchy as Arborio, two Ark of Taste varieties come to mind: North America’s  Carolina Gold Rice and Italy’s Giant Vercelli Rice. There are many great pumpkins on the Ark of Taste. Modern food trends have not been kind to pumpkins. Due to size and a lack of familiarity on how to handle preparation, they are increasingly relegated to industrial canning for pies. Meanwhile, here is a great opportunity to put to use these endangered pumpkins: South Africa’s Flat White Boer Pumpkin, Liguria’s Rocchetta Pumpkin in Italy, the Rift Valley’s Lare Pumpkin in Kenya, and the farmers market favorite in North America — the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbs unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
  • 2 cups rice
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup white wine (if you do not have any, substitute with one more cup stock)
  • ½  cup pure pumpkin purée
  • Salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup roasted pumpkin seeds
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley
  • ¼ -½ tsp ground black pepper

Preparation:

If you plan to use an Instant Pot, it is this quick and simple. Please note, this assumes that you have already roasted or steamed ½ cup of pumpkin purée. If working from a fresh pumpkin, do not despair. It’s not that difficult. Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds (to roast as an accompaniment), and place in a shallow pan to roast. Details below.  

  1. Press Sauté on the Instant Pot. Add 2 tbs butter. Add the onion and sauté for 3 minutes with a wooden spoon.
  2. Add the garlic and rice. Stir to coat and evenly toast the rice. Once you can smell the garlic, after about 2 minutes, press Cancel.
  3. While the rice is cooking, place the ½ pumpkin in a shallow saucepan to roast in a bath of salty water. With the skin of the pumpkin facing up, it will turn brown as it roasts. Don’t worry. The inside will be moist and soft, and ready to be scooped out for the risotto (in step 9 below). 
  4. While the oven is hot, this is a good time to take the pumpkin seeds and prepare for roasting. Separate the seeds from the stringy inside of the pumpkin, run them under cold water to remove the stickiness of the pumpkin in a colander. While still wet, place the seeds onto a pan and sprinkle with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper, and roast in the oven until brown. Set aside to let cool and add for serving
  5. Warm the stock in a saucepan, if you have one. Otherwise, mix it in at room temperature.
  6. Add the warm stock to the Instant Pot. Stir to combine.
  7. Mix in the pumpkin purée. (If you are working from a fresh pumpkin roasted in the oven, do not worry that you have not puréed the pumpkin — it will melt quickly into the juices of the risotto.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Adjust the seasoning if needed. Mix in the brown butter from the pan.
  8. Seal the lid. The steam vent should be in the sealed position. Press Pressure Cook until the display light is beneath High Pressure. Use the -/+ buttons to adjust the time until the display reads 5 minutes.
  9. While the risotto cooks, add the remaining butter to a small skillet over a medium/high heat. The butter will melt. Once it begins to darken — after about 3-5 minutes — remove from heat.
  10. When the timer sounds, quick release the pressure and remove the lid.
  11. Combine the roasted pumpkin seeds to the brown butter over a low heat. 
  12. Chop the parsley finely.
  13. Transfer risotto to serving bowls and top with chopped parsley and roasted pumpkin seeds.

If, instead, you prepare the risotto the old-fashioned way, it will take longer but it is also very simple. It will require additional ingredients: ½ cup of olive oil in order to properly coat the rice.

Here is what you will do differently: In a heavy saucepan and over a medium heat, pour in the olive oil, chopped onion and garlic and stir until they get soft and brown. Add the rice and stir constantly, so it fully coats the rice. This will toast the rice and release nutty flavors. For approximately 30-35 minutes, keep stirring the rice, adding wine and vegetable stock (as the heat cooks away the liquid). For sanity’s sake, do this a cup at a time until the rice turns chewy (al denté). By this point, you should have one cup of stock left. Add it together with the pumpkin. Stir in and reduce the heat to a very low simmer and let stand for approximately 10 minutes. Add more salt and pepper to taste and then serve in bowls topped with the fresh parsley and seeds (as described above). 

A word about vegetable stock: There are plenty of industrial bouillon cubes to choose from.

While convenient, it is so easy to make your own stock. It helps reduce food waste. The Minimalist Baker has a relatively simple recipe that uses all sorts of vegetable scraps you’d likely throw away: Onion skins, etc. The most important thing to remember is that this should not require purchasing additional ingredients. Keep the scraps in the freezer and save them for once you have enough ingredients to cook up a batch of stock. Once complete, you can can it or freeze it. Whichever recipe you opt for, one of the key ingredients is to make sure you include a bay leaf. Grow them, dry them, or purchase them in the spice section of the store. 

–> This recipe is part of the Meat the Change campaign, carried out to raise awareness among producers and consumers about the environmental impact of meat consumption and production. Find out more here

–> To learn more about Meatless Monday: Watch the videos about how it is going global; and the tour of Terra Madre. To join us, submit a recipe of your own via email (Richard@ThinkLikePirates.com). If you prepare this week’s recipe, post images online using the hashtags #MeattheChange and #MeatlessMonday. 

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