Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter Squash Risotto: As Far as I Know

As far as I know, I know how to make risotto. The only risotto I’ve ever eaten, with the exception of a taste of a chain restaurant offering from my grandmother’s plate, I have made myself. Since what I’ve been making seems to match well with what I’ve read that risotto is supposed to be like, and, more importantly, tastes very good, I’ll have to assume I know what I’m doing. I could be wrong.

I’ve tried several recipes for risotto with various ingredients added for flavor, but the method is pretty standard. Short grain rice, typically Arborio (although I’ve also read about Carnaroli rice) is slowly plumped in successive additions of broth while the cook stirs more or less continuously. That sounds demanding and daunting, or at least not something for the really busy or the really lazy to attempt. Actually, you don’t need to be that much of a perfectionist to tackle risotto. It does take some of your time and attention, say, significantly more than microwaving a Hot Pocket, but nothing is tricky and the labor isn’t grueling.

You can put just about anything you like in your risotto pot, and my recipe files contain risotto for all seasons. Recently, I made a winter squash risotto, since I’ve got an abundance of that vegetable again this year, flavored with a little onion, garlic and fresh sage. Based on what I could find in my sketchy notes on what I tried last year, there seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to squash risotto. One involves roasting cubed squash or simmering it in broth before starting on the rice, then stirring the cooked squash pieces into the risotto later.

The other method involves stirring squash puree into the nearly-finished risotto, and this is what I did in the recipe below. Peeling and chopping winter squash loses its novelty for me pretty early in the season so I tend to roast and puree most of my CSA squash. Several zip-top bags full of the stuff have already accumulated in the freezer (I’m afraid to look, but there might even be some of last year’s crop buried in there, too), and using it was just easier. I can’t find any evidence in my notes of where I might have got the idea to make squash risotto this way. Convenient and at hand as the squash puree may be, however, I find it hard to believe that I came up with this method entirely on my own.

The flavors of this dish are soft and subtle. The risotto is very creamy, but the creaminess comes only from the squash puree and the starch that the rice gives up as it is stirred with the broth. Oh yeah, and the little bit of Parmesan cheese that I stirred in at the end. The squash flavor isn’t overwhelming or cloying and the tanginess of the cheese and earthiness of the fresh sage balance it well. I serve this as a main dish, with a salad or fruit, but you could serve it as a side along with turkey, chicken, pork, or pretty much whatever you like. Overall, I find this risotto hot, creamy, nourishing and comforting for a cold time of the year. As far as I know, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

Winter Squash RisottoI used a homemade vegetable broth with very little salt added. It's a good idea to taste the risotto, especially near the end of cooking, and decide if it needs more salt.

5 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
¾ cup roasted winter squash puree or canned squash or pumpkin
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Pour the vegetable stock into a medium saucepan. Warm just until beginning to simmer. Keep hot, but do not boil.

2. In another medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and sauté 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic, sage and pepper and cook 1 minute more. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat well with the oil mixture.

3. Stir in the wine. Cook, stirring for about 1 minute. Add about ½ cup of the heated broth and cook, stirring constantly until the broth is nearly all absorbed. Repeat, adding about ½ cup of broth at a time and stirring more or less constantly, for about 20-30 minutes.

4. After about 20 minutes and/or only about 1 cup of warm broth remains, taste the rice to determine if it is near done. The rice should be tender, but not yet mushy. There should be a very little bit of firmness left in the center of the rice grains. If the rice is not yet done, continue adding broth and stirring as described above.

5. When the rice is creamy and tender, stir in the squash puree. Cook and stir until heated through. Stir in the Parmesan cheese. Taste the risotto for salt and add more if desired. Serve right away for best texture. (Discard any remaining broth or reserve for another use.)

Makes 4-5 main dish servings or about 8 side dish servings. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. They can be reheated, and are still quite good, but will not be as creamy as when just made.

Other recipes like this one: Pasta with Squash Puree and Blue Cheese Sauce, Savory Squash Bread Pudding with Bacon and Onions

One year ago: Winter Vegetable Galettes with Cheddar, Mustard and Caramelized Onions

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