Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Lazywoman's Pumpkin

For some reason this year, I am all about seasonal cooking. I think that it is a way of me dealing with the fact that the days are getting shorter, the thermometer is plunging, and for some reason, this year, my clothes are feeling a bit tighter. So much for working against the problem!

Well when life gives you pumpkins, you make butternut squash risotto. I have a tiny one-bedroom apartment; I have an anal-retentive husband that would freak if I started carving a pumpkin in the middle of our living room (in truth, I don't think I would even bother, and yes, I am capable of making a huge mess without even trying). So, I use butternut squash when I want that autumnal feeling with (Nigella's words) 'minimum effort'.

Following along from my 'interesting' experience with pumpkin ravioli at Gennaro's, I wanted to pair 'pumpkins', AKA butternut squash, and sage again; this time, in a risotto.

The recipe and pictures follow, but I wanted just to wax lyrical about one of my favorite vegetables ever; or is it a fruit? Anyway, I admit that cutting butternut squash is a bitch, especially with shitty knives like mine. But there is something about the smell that cutting the squash emanates. I can't really describe it. There is a freshness there, almost like it's the savoury cousin of the honeydew melon. A freshness that almost smells like rain. Bloody brilliant.

Many people believe that roasting a butternut squash is the best way of keeping its sweetness and 'butternut squash-iness'. I happen to agree. I loosely based the recipe below on one that I used ages ago from an August, 2005 issue of Delicious Australia. In it, the butternut squash is roasted in olive oil and then some honey. It gives the squash a delicate sweetness -- just lovely.

It is up to the cook, of course, when he/she would add the squash to the risotto -- in the beginning, towards the end, etc. My squash turned out just less than tender, so I decided to add it in the beginning. Butternut squash will keep its shape in a risotto, so risotto makers need not be worried the risotto would turn into an orange mush -- which ain't too bad either, I must admit.

Well here's my adaption below of the classic autumnal risotto.

Autumnal Risotto - serves 2 (generously)

1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
500g butternut squash, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups carnaroli rice
60ml white wine
1 liter chicken stock
50g of freshly grated parmesan
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped

Place the butternut squash on parchment paper in a roasting pan. Drizzle one tablespoon of the olive oil and roast at 450ºF for 15 minutes; drizzle a teaspoon of honey over the semi-tender pieces and continue roasting for another 15 minutes, or until tender.

Sweat the chopped onion at a gentle heat with the remaining olive oil, the salt and one tablespoon of butter until soft and translucent. Add the rice and combine well until slicked in the oil and butter. Add the butternut squash and mix, and then add the wine and let it bubble up on medium heat until it evaporates. Lower the heat and add a ladleful of chicken stock at a time, until it is absorbed.

When the rice tastes soft but still firm to the bite, remove it from the heat and add the parmesan and sage. Cover and let rest for about three minutes. Serve and enjoy.

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