Sunday, 7 October 2012

Seasonal Cooking: Roast Squash Risotto

Aoife, Cambridge

I woke up a couple of weeks ago with a longing for a new geometry set, blank copy books and freshly sharpened pencils. Since that moment I've been rediscovering my love of this beautiful season. Can anything top the wonder of Autumnal sunsets and the cosy feeling that wells up as you draw the curtains against the world? My daily commute gives me plenty of time to note the changing colours of the trees and add to my collection of shiny conkers. I love the cold, windy days and the pretty scarves, thick tights, leather gloves and boots that come with them. I've been adding a liberal topping of butter and brown sugar to my porridge and relishing the life-affirming crunch of the small white-fleshed apples you can buy in Cambridge Sunday market.
Of course, our dinners begin to get heavier at this time of year. I make risotto all year round but the season cries out for an autumn-hued roast pumpkin or squash risotto. Handily, we're enjoying a great crop of these tasty kabocha squashes from our allotment plot.

Kabocha squash on the allotment
I know some people are scared of risotto but I stick to a very simple base recipe and then just add whatever is available from the allotment or the market; it really couldn't be easier. I have been using this recipe for a good few years now and I've learnt a few things along the way:
  • Make sure you chop the onions, celery and garlic into very small pieces.
  • Sweat the vegetables slowly and gently and err on the side of too long, you want them soft and melting.
  • Don't be afraid to play with the ratio of ingredients and/or the ingredients themselves depending on what you have left in the fridge (I had run out of Parmesan and used a hard goat's cheese instead - it was delicious).
  • If you don't want to waste the wine you have bought for the evening, a glass of vermouth works equally as well.
  • Be generous with the butter and the cheese in the final stages.
  • There is lots of stirring involved, get someone to help.
  • I like my risotto with a pretty salad on the side, The Husband prefers more risotto, less salad. Either way is good.
  • I always make much, much more than we need for dinner. I love leftover risotto for lunch, either just heated up in the microwave if it's a work lunch or fried in little cakes if I am at home.

roast squash risotto (serves two generously with leftovers)

2 small squash
1 onion
2 sticks of celery
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
a knob of butter
250g of risotto rice (I generally use Arborio as it's easy to find in the shops)
1 glass of white wine
700 mL of stock (chicken or vegetable, home made if possible)
a knob of butter
50g of Parmesan (or other hard cheese), finely grated
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For this recipe it's a good idea to prepare the squash first. Quarter them, remove the seeds and roast them at 200°C until golden. Once cool, peel them and chop the flesh ready for use.

Finely chop the onion, celery and garlic. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan over a low-medium heat. Have your stock simmering in a separate pan. Add the chopped vegetables to the butter and olive oil in a pan over a low-medium heat. Sweat the vegetables gently for 10-15 minutes until soft. Add the rice, and stir to ensure all the grains are well coated. Add the glass of wine and stir until all the liquid is absorbed. Begin to add the stock by the ladel-full with constant stirring, only adding more when each portion is absorbed into the rice. I wanted my squash to really melt into the sauce so I added the chopped flesh about half way through cooking. I also added the sage at this stage. Taste the risotto as you go along to see how the rice is doing. You want a little bit of bite but not too much. Rachel has a great trick that involves taking a single grain, cutting into it and having a look. You should just be able to see the tiniest white centre. Either way, once it is done to your satisfaction (you may not need all of the stock or you may need additional water), take the pot off the heat and add the grated cheese and the last knob of butter, give it a stir and leave it to sit with the lid on for about 3 minutes (or as long as you can wait). Add salt and pepper to taste and serve it up. I topped this batch with a sprinkling of fresh thyme (I had run out of sage).

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