Risotto and I did not always have such a good relationship. I almost gave it up entirely. After all, I am awfully good at boiling pasta.
It was after a dinner club experience where unintentionally my lemon risotto and grilled shrimp, seasoned with panic, went up against another’s risotto and osso buco. We didn’t plan the grain on grain competition, but it happened.
Even being hungry from not getting to eat the first courses didn’t make mine taste any better. It was the last time I made shrimp. It’s been over five years. I have made risotto since, but not for others. There was always a little bit of worry, that this slow cooking meal would end just like that other time.
That’s part of it. The other time was late and rushed and frantic and the grill was very, very far away from the stove and ohhh there was even more. Risotto isn’t glittered leopard print, but it likes attention.
Last year, when not feeling so well I improvised this version of risotto for dinner. Annoyed at not feeling well, I was trying to force or punish myself into feeling better. Except I didn’t feel well — certainly not well enough to measure anything. Not well enough to worry about missing ingredients. The dish turned out very well. I ate every bite and felt much, much better after.
If you’ve ever messed up measuring ingredients for a cake and still had it work out — that’s what it felt like. Or, if you’re out hiking, far away from help and almost fall, but catch yourself in a spectacular display of instinct — that’s kinda the right feeling.
Butternut & Bay Risotto
Cut either one small or half a large butternut squash in small cubes. Heat up a large skillet, drizzled with olive oil over a lowish-medium heat. Add squash to the hot skillet and season with salt, pepper, a little spice (cayenne or chili powder), and one bay leaf. Cook, stirring every so often, until tender and cooked through.
While the squash is cooking heat vegetable broth in a small pot, again over lowish-medium heat. You’ll need a few cups, but it’s okay to switch to water if you run out of broth. Just be sure to add it to the pot to heat up as well.
Dice up a little bit of yellow onion or shallot. Take the cooked squash out of the skillet, but keep the bay leaf in throughout cooking the rice. Melt a little bit of butter in the skillet. Saute the onion (or shallot). Add in the arborio rice (about a cup) and cook until a grain’s edges are translucent but the middle is still white.
Now it’s time to add liquid to the rice. You can start with some white wine (say about 1/4 cup or less) if you’d like, but I’ve made it with just broth and water too. Then start adding in 1 large ladlefull of broth at a time. Wait until the broth is absorbed, absentmindedly stirring most of the time, before adding another and another ladlefull until the rice is tender.
Grate/shred large handful parmesan or other flavorful hard cheese. You can get fun with this. Once, the last bit of a nutty goat cheese went in with excellent results. Add cheese to the risotto and a couple splashes of cream (also optional). Add the butternut back.
Just give it a good stir to mix all together and get the squash hot again. That’s it.
I like a crisp salad with this type of dish.
Oh yeah, don’t eat the bay leaf.