About four years ago, I was laid off from my job during the Great Economic Downturn of 2002. After the requisite month of blind panic, I settled into what I think of now as an unemployed lifestyle; that is to say, I exercised more, read a tremendous number of books, and made sure that when Man of La Muncha returned home from his terrible commute, he had something warm and tasty waiting for him when he walked in the door. It was during this period of time that I perfected the art of making risotto.
Risotto is a good dish for the chop-and-toss cook who throws in whatever is handy and doesn't have a mind to follow exact measurements; it is very forgiving. A little rice, a little broth, the additions of your choice, an hour or so on the stove, and boom, you've got yourself a pot of risotto. It's time-intensive, but not particularly difficult. And the results are fabulously warm and tasty, especially on a cold winter's day.
Man of La Muncha and I are both out on vacation this week, and have been cooking for each other. I have eaten several of Man of La Muncha's wonderful creations; to return the favor, and to use some of the delicata squash from our CSA box that have been curing in the basement, I resolved to make risotto.
Now, my typical risotto is made with chicken stock and mushrooms; however, I wasn't certain that the squash and the mushrooms would go particularly well together. And while I'm sure that the chicken broth would have been fine, I was after something a little different from my standard risotto. So I went to the store and bought a quart of vegetable stock, along with some chevre and a bottle of white wine (an Italian pinot grigio--I don't trust the cheaper US white wines to be oak-free, and nothing will ruin a nice dish faster than using an overoaked wine in the cooking of it). After returning home and unloading my purchases, I trekked down to our basement and retrieved two good-sized delicatas, a garlic bulb, and a yellow onion.
Once I returned to the kitchen, I turned the oven to 350 degrees and popped a baking dish with about a tablespoon of butter in to heat. In the interim, I scrubbed down the exterior of my delicatas and sliced off the ends. Then I split them in half, scooped out the seeds, then chopped the pieces into chunks of about two to three inches. By this time, the butter had melted and the oven was nearly heated. I pulled out the baking dish, arranged the delicata chunks cut side down, put the dish back into the oven, and left the squash to cook for the next forty minutes or so.
After about forty minutes had passed, I opened the oven and stuck a fork into the back of one of the bigger pieces; the fork went in easily, so out came the squash. I put the pan on a trivet to cool, and began to prepare the risotto.
First, I went out to the backyard and grabbed a sprig of rosemary; then I got some leftover tarragon and basil from the refrigerator, and added it all to the chopper. I then pulled two cloves off the garlic bulb, peeled them, and added them into the chopper bowl as well. Finally, I peeled my onion, quartered it, and sent it off to join its fellows. I then turned on the machine for about twenty seconds--just enough to give me a fine chop without completely pureeing the ingredients. I also added the broth to a separate saucepan and set it to simmer on the stove, just behind the large soup pot that would hold my risotto.
I turned up the flame under my soup pot to a medium level and added olive oil (about three glubs worth--say three tablespoons) and let it heat a bit. In went the onion/garlic/herb blend; I stirred the mixture about, and, while it was cooking and the onion turning translucent, returned to the delicatas, now cooled and ready to be scooped. Grabbing each piece, I scooped the tender, slightly caramelized flesh into the chopper, discarded the rinds, and turned on the chopper. The squash didn't appear to be pureeing as I'd hoped, so I added a dash of olive oil in the hopes that a little moisture would provide the incentive needed for my thick squash to turn into a lovely puree. My hopes were realized, and I had a very nice puree for my efforts.
Turning back to the onion blend, I stirred a bit more, then added in my risotto--a cup and a half's worth--along with another glub of olive oil and assorted herbs and spices. (I believe I added oregano and thyme. I know I added black pepper and cinnamon. As I said, you can't go wrong). I stirred the risotto until the edges began to go a bit translucent (probably about five minutes of stirring), then added in my puree and about a half-cup of white wine, stirring all the while. While the risotto was busy absorbing the liquid, I poured myself a glass of the wine and settled in to finish this dish.
As I mentioned earlier, risotto is not difficult. It is, however, time-consuming. If you don't have to bake squash or cook mushrooms beforehand, a basic risotto will take you about an hour to prepare. Once you get to the point of adding liquid, it is best to settle in with a glass of wine and a book. Leaning against the counter, you can sip your wine, stir your risotto, add a ladle of warm broth as needed when the risotto starts to thicken, and read your book.
I continued in this manner for about forty minutes, adding broth as the risotto continued to thicken, stirring it in, and tasting as the dish came together to make sure I wasn't missing anything. Once all the broth had been consumed and the risotto was tender to the bite, I called Man of La Muncha upstairs for dinner. I scooped the risotto into bowls and added crumbled chevre to the top.
The dish was savory, with the chevre adding a nice bit of piquancy to the finished product. Man of La Muncha finished his and went back for seconds. I consider the addition of squash a success. Two delicatas down, three more (and one giant squash) to go!
Butter Bitch's Risotto a Go-Go, with Squash
2 delicata squash
1 tablespoon butter
1 quart vegetable broth
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup fresh basil, whole
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon
1.5 cups of risotto
Approximately 1/2 cup of white wine
Spices to flavor
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add a tablespoon of butter to a baking dish and put in oven.
2. Scrub the delicatas and cut off the ends. Chop down the middle, scoop out the seeds, and then chop into pieces of approximately 3 inches.
3. Pull the baking dish out of the oven and make sure the butter is evenly spread around the dish. Put the delicata pieces into the baking dish, cut side down, and bake for approximately 40 minutes or until a fork inserted into a large piece goes in without resistance. Remove from oven and set to cool.
4. Pour the broth into a saucepan and set on a low flame on the back burner of the stove. Put a large soup pot on the front burner, set the flame to medium, and add approximately 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
5. Either by hand or by machine, finely chop the basil, tarragon, garlic, and onion together. Add to the soup pot and stir.
6. While the onion mixture is cooking down, scoop the flesh from the baked delicata pieces and add to a chopper or blender. Puree the squash, adding a bit of olive oil if needed in order to get a smooth consistency.
7. Add the risotto to the onion mixture and stir until the edges of the rice become a bit translucent, adding a touch of olive oil if the mixture seems dry. Also add any dried herbs and spices as they strike your fancy--I typically add cinnamon to my risotto, along with whatever else comes to hand. Then add the white wine and squash puree and stir until absorbed.
8. Once the wine has been absorbed, begin to add the broth to the risotto. Add a ladle at a time, and stir until absorbed. Continue until all the broth has been used (this takes about forty minutes).
9. Once all the broth has been absorbed, let sit on low heat for about five minutes. Then scoop into bowls and add a garnish of crumbed chevre. Enjoy!