Superb with squash, mushrooms, marinara, kale, chicken, almost any cheese, but a certain mystique surrounds the making of risotto. It’s misrepresented, I think, as being fussy and time-consuming.
I would argue that it’s fairly simple, but does require the cook’s attention for 30 minutes or so. OK, maybe that is a bit fussy. Other supper making tasks can be accomplished while the risotto bubbles away and the cook has a sip of something. In the end you have a steamy, savory blending of beautiful flavor and color. When it walks into the room people pay attention.
I stocked up on several varieties of squash at my Farmer’s Market a couple of weeks ago. Whistling Train Farm provides good selection right now and for a while longer I think. Any hefty-flavored deeply colored squash like Acorn, Red Kuri or a pie Pumpkin will work – they keep for weeks, months even, when kept in a cool dark place.
Furthermore, risotto mixes deliciously with an array of ingredients. Once you have the basic risotto *protocol down you can embellish with herbs and all kinds of produce in addition to squash. Like squash, some of these need to be precooked or reconstituted before adding to partly cooked risotto: mushrooms (especially wild and dried), tomatoes, leeks, zucchini, carrot, kale, chard, dried fruit . . . use water or any broth you like, and finish the risotto with almost any cheese imaginable. Voilà, a bowl of nutritious, comforting, mostly local food.
I started by roasting an Acorn squash. Peeling a squash, at least for me, is one of the more formidable kitchen tasks. Much easier to cut it in half, roast it in the oven for about 30 minutes @ 350º and then just scoop out the flesh – about four cups from a medium-sized Acorn squash. Some recipes recommend that squash be pureed before adding to risotto. Since I don’t mind the rustic version, I smash and stir it with a fork and use as is.
Anecdotally, this is how I made Squash Risotto for four: *In a large saucepan melt 2 tablespoons of butter and sauté 1/4 cup finely chopped onion, scallion or leek for a few minutes/ then add 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice to the mix/ continue to sauté for five minutes along with a finely chopped teaspoon of sage or rosemary, stirring often/ meanwhile, in another saucepan heat 2 1/2 cups of stock or plain water to a simmer and hold/ add 1/2 cup white wine to the rice mix and let it cook away until liquid almost disappears/add a teaspoon of salt and more if needed when risotto is done/ begin adding simmering liquid 1/2 cupful at a time, stirring until liquid is nearly cooked away/ add additional liquid 1/2 cup at a time and, once again, stir and allow to cook until liquid is almost gone before adding more.
This is the secret I’m told to successful risotto, the adding, stirring and then allowing each round of liquid to almost cook away.
About 2/3 of the way through the cooking process (after about 20 minutes) add 2 – 3 cups of the cooked squash and continue the cooking process until rice is al dente and risotto is creamy and fluid, which usually takes about 30 minutes. (You may use all of the simmering liquid, or not. If you run out and need more, just use water.) Turn the heat off and add a couple of tablespoons of cream, a spoonful of butter if you like, 1/2 cup of cheese. I used Parmesan, but many local cheeses would be great, including Vache de Vashon from Sea Breeze Farm.
Wind and rain howling outside, we had this risotto topped with a juicy piece of roasted chicken and garlicky steamed kale on the side. Cozy. A mostly local meal worthy of repeat performances this winter.