Monday, May 9, 2011

Curried Pumpkin Risotto with Chicken and Peas Paired with 2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier

 Curried Pumpkin Risotto with Chicken and Peas Paired with 2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier

Photo Buddy John (John Andrew Downey II Photography) was in town this week so of course we decided to have some fun with a wine pairing.  And with John in the house, we had a guest photographer for this pairing.  While it is always fun to cook, pair, photograph, eat, and drink, it is a much easier endeavor when I can cook while John shoots.  This pairing presented a couple of interesting surprises, but not to worry, gastronomic joy was experienced by all.

The Food

I love curry.  If you take a minute to look through some of my past posts, you will find a bunch of pairings and recipes featuring curry – curried duck, roti, curried chicken, curried butternut squash soup and on, and on.  I offer no apologies – I love curry.  Throw in some coconut milk with all that curried goodness, and I get emotional.

Diced Shallots

Pumpkin risotto is a bold dish that combines sweet earthy flavors with rich, creamy textures and a coconut enhanced spicy lingering on the palate at the end of each bite. The pumpkin adds a heft to each morsel that takes this from being just another rice dish to becoming marque worthy.

Pork Belly and Chicken

This dish is another example of the curry smile that appears on my face when the sweet aromas begin to fill the house.  In addition to the holy marriage of curry and coconut milk, pumpkin (like butternut squash) introduces another flavor that marches comfortably in unison with the precision of a military parade.

Pork Belly and Chicken-1

The first surprise from this recipe was the way in which each component stood out as a distinct flavor.  Often, many components become lost in the combination like an oboe lost in an orchestra.  Clearly, the dominance of the curry was a feature flavor, but the cinnamon, cayenne, turmeric, chicken, pork belly, parmesan cheese, cilantro and coconut each had their moment in the spotlight.

Rendering Pork

This was my first attempt at risotto.  The risotto played the perfect role as the foundation on which all the luxurious flavors were built.  However, I have to admit that while certainly enjoyable, the risotto was slightly on the al dente side.  Live and learn.

Stirring Risotto

The Wine

2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier

The wine for this meal came from my monthly purchase of a mixed case from Schneider’s of Capitol Hill.  Honestly, the pair was inspired by the wine.  I had the wine in the rack, and said “what would work will with this bottle of 2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier?”

2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier-1

With a light sweetness and flavors of citrus and mango, I hoped this Viognier would stand up to the bold flavors of the curried pumpkin.  I will talk about the pairing in a moment, but on it’s own, the 2008 Cuvée De Peña Viognier was very pleasant and enjoyable.  At $10 – $12, this wine is a reasonable value and an easy drinking wine.

The Pairing

Pumpkin Risotto with Peas and Chicken

And now on to the second surprise – the pairing was not as successful as I had hoped.  Although we (Photography Buddy John, Chef Sue and I) all enjoyed the wine, it did not stand up to the intense flavors of the curried pumpkin dish.  The wine seemed to lose all flavor in the face of such a daunting opponent.  These strong flavors demand a wine that is equally bold in either sweetness, HUGE fruit, acidity or a combination of these three.  Of these components, high acidity is most important – fight power with power!  If I were to do it again (which I will!) I would look to a big fruit and high acidity Sauvignon Blanc.  As a side note, be careful of high alcohol wines which cause problems with the big spice of a curried dish such as this.

Final Words

This dish is a delightfully indulgent trip into big flavor.  I highly recommend it, and will be back for a better pairing soon.  Be careful and bold in your selection of wine with this recipe.  Finally, I can’t promise I will lay off the curry, but will do my best to offer you some new and exciting options in the near future.  With crabs now in season, I see some seafood in our future as well as a culinary trip to Venezuela.  Stand by for a few of my favorites.

The Recipe

Cilantro and Risotto Recipe


  • 1 lb cubed chicken breasts
  • 6 oz smoked pork belly (cubed to 1/2 inch) - alternatively use country bacon, or just plain bacon - it's all bacon and oh so good.
  • 6 oz. butter
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 quart of chicken stock
  • 1 cup of water
  • ¼ cup sherry
  • 1 finely chopped shallot
  • 15 oz. canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling – just plain puree)
  • 1 1/2 cups risotto rice
  • 1 bag of frozen peas
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese grated fine
  • 2/3 can coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh cilantro (garnish)


  1. In a sauté pan over a medium-low flame, render smoked pork belly until firm. About mid way through the rendering, add the cayenne pepper and season with salt. Increase the heat to medium, add the curry, and turmeric, and sauté the chicken with the pork belly and pepper mixture, until browned on all sides. Set aside.
  2. Pour the chicken stock and one cup of water into a pot and bring to a simmer.
  3. Whisk 10 oz. of your 15 oz can of pumpkin puree into the warm stock.
  4. When you are ready to make the risotto, place a medium size pan over a medium heat. Add two ounces of butter.
  5. Once the butter melts, add the shallots, a pinch of salt and allow the shallots to sweat.
    When the shallots have sweated and begun to turn translucent, add the rice and stir.
  6. Increase heat to medium and continue to stir vigorously for two minutes but don't let the rice take on color or brown.
  7. Add the sherry and stir it into the rice until it cooks off.
  8. Return the flame to medium-low and add the last half (6 oz.) of pumpkin puree and the cinnamon. 
  9. Stir to combine completely and add your first ladle full of stock. As the stock reduces and the mixture turns creamy, continue to add stock (one ladle at a time - about 12 minutes to incorporate) continuing to stir for a total of 18 minutes. I recommend you have a glass of wine at the ready - this is tedious.
  10. At 18 minutes, add the peas, chicken, bacon, coconut milk, and 1/2 of the cheese, and stir in completely and taste on the minute until the rice is done. There are lots of variables here, so you have to use your judgment on when you feel the rice is done.
  11. Season with salt to taste and plate with cilantro garnish and cheese.


  1. Just made this dish, quite delicious. Met chef sue at a cooking class in denver, she gave me your blog address very glad she did will be looking forward to your cookbook. Paired the meal with a sauvignon blanc that complemented the curry as you said it would. Thom

  2. Thom, I'm so glad you enjoyed the recipe and that the Sauvignon Blanc worked well. I have not taken the opportunity to revisit this pairing, but it is pumpkin season and it seems now would be the time to do so. The final editing of the cookbook is going well and I am on track for release in early November.