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The dish that keeps on giving

October 6, 2011

The very first morning that a cool, crisp breeze greeted me on my way out the door I started daydreaming about rich, warm meals. And even though we’re experiencing an unseasonably warm autumn here in Minnesota, the evening chill and vibrant leaves have signaled a change in menu here in our house.

Some dishes are the embodiment of a season. Roasts: Winter. Asparagus – any way: Spring. Caprese salad: Summer. Risotto: Autumn. When I pulled a butternut squash out of my CSA share last week, my mind instantly jumped to risotto. I was apparently not alone in this thought, because last night when my husband and I escaped the mid-week insanity and enjoyed a few hours in the warmish, coolish, weather on one of the most beautiful patios in town – a place with some of the best food in town to boot – my eyes went immediately to to the butternut squash risotto on the menu. (If you’re wondering, I absolutely ordered it. And it was delicious. But honestly, not quite as delicious as what I’m about to share with you.)

If you haven’t tried your hand at risotto at home, you should. Don’t be scared off by the notion of stirring and time commitments. Does it require a lot of stirring over a 20 minute period? Yes, it does. But it’s lazy cooking: slowly swirling while chatting about your day, pondering the rest of your night, or simply being mindful of the moment – the steam, the aroma, the motion of the spoon in the rice.

There are a few technical aspects to making risotto that you should know. First, the rice needs to be coated in a thin layer of fat before the bulk of the liquid is added to the dish. This allows for a slow absorption of the wine and stock, allowing the grain to plump up while simultaneously releasing starch and maintaining its shape and structure. Second, the liquid needs to be gradually added to the rice, about a half a cup at a time. Add liquid, stir, absorb, repeat. Third, never cover the pot. Ever. Trapped steam does not a good risotto make. Last, when the rice no longer tastes starchy but still has a bit of a bite to it remove the pot from the heat. It will still be a bit soupy, but just the right amount of liquid will absorb as you let it sit for a few minutes, and it will be just perfect by the time you serve it.

Risotto always goes over well in my house – my son thinks it’s some kind of cheesy pasta and my husband knows that the next day or two will bring risotto cakes. It takes a great deal of willpower, but you must leave a cup or two of risotto for risotto cakes. They really can only be made with risotto that’s been in the fridge for 24 hours or more, as freshly made risotto doesn’t bind together well enough to make them. Shaped into patties, dredged in egg and breadcrumbs, and lightly fried in olive oil, they are divine served atop a simple green salad with a fresh squeeze of lemon.

I roasted the squash while I prepared the risotto, and folded it in at the end with some parmesan cheese and sage crisped up in browned butter. The savory, sweet, creamy, sometimes crisp (thanks to the roasted squash and sage) dish was a perfect goodbye to summer and how-do-you-do to autumn.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage Brown Butter

Adapted from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper

  • 10-12 sage leaves
  • 3  tablespoons butter
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (Homemade is best. I’m just sayin’.)
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 heaping cup arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Combine sage leaves with 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Cook until butter is melted and the butter solids are a toasty, golden brown color, taking care not to let them blacken and burn. Scrape mixture into small bowl and set aside.

Warm stock in small sauce pan set over low heat.

Cut and peel the squash. There is no super-easy-fool-proof way to do this, but I find that cutting the ends off, and then cutting the squash in two pieces where the neck meet the body allows for the easiest peeling.  Cut the body in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a spoon. Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler (or a combination of the two), remove the outer skin. Cut the squash into pieces roughly 1 to 1 1/2 inches square and place on a large foil lined baking sheet. Toss with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes or so, until cooked through and nicely browned on bottom side.

Add remaining butter and oil to a medium size sauce pan set over medium heat. Saute onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and rice and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often and making sure to coat grains in the oil and butter. Raise the heat to medium high and add the wine, stirring until absorbed. Add about one cup of warmed stock, constantly stirring until absorbed. When you can pull the spoon through the rice while scraping the bottom of the pan and the mixture takes a second or so to come back together, add another cup of stock, again stirring until absorbed. Repeat, constantly stirring, adding stock in half cup increments, until rice is no longer starchy but still has a bit of a firm bite to it. The mixture should still be a bit soupy, as pictured above. Somewhere in the range of 15 to 20 minutes will span the first addition of liquid from the last. Remove the pan from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

Fold squash into risotto along with parmesan, brown butter and sage. Sprinkle with additional parmesan.

Risotto Cakes

  • Leftover risotto
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs or panko
  • Olive oil

Fill a medium saute pan with 1/2 inch of olive oil. Set over medium high heat.

Shape risotto into patties roughly 1/2 inch thick (use about 1/4 risotto per cake). Dredge in eggs, allowing excess to run off. Dredge in breadcrumbs, shaking excess off.

Gently place into hot oil. Cook 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown and heated through, taking care not to burn.

Serve on top of mixed greens dressed with olive oil and salt and pepper, along with a lemon wedge for squeezing over the greens and the cakes.

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