Butternut Squash Risotto

Aah, risotto. Some years back, when I was a young and naive undergraduate, I had never heard of risotto. It was a shame, really, because I love congee (perhaps the ultimate Asian comfort food) -- which is very similar, except it's a little runnier toppings go onto the finish product, instead of being mixed in at the end of cooking. Oh, it's delicious. This risotto was one of the first things Daniel cooked for me -- and I knew straight away that something special was going on.

This particular risotto is good because it's simple. Not a whole lot goes into it, but the individual flavors really come through. And don't be scared off because you've heard risotto is so time-consuming -- at the most, this recipe will take you an hour to throw together, and every minute is worth it.

Butternut Squash Risotto

1 large butternut squash (~2 lbs), peeled, seeded, chopped into 1/2" chunks
4 tbsp olive oil

6 cups vegetable broth

3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place squash on large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Roast until tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.

Bring stock to simmer in heavy large saucepan. Reduce heat to very low; cover and keep stock warm.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in another heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leeks and sauté until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add rice; stir 1 minute. Add wine and simmer until absorbed, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup hot stock; simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently. Add remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, allowing stock to be absorbed before adding more and stirring frequently, until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, about 25 minutes longer. Add roasted squash, cream, Parmesan cheese and sage; stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Bon Appétit, December 1999
Serves 4 as a main course.

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Lemon and Asparagus Risotto

Minnah came and stayed with us a few days this week. She's good at giving encouragement in the kitchen, so we did a lot of cooking. This recipe is for a lemon asparagus risotto inspired by a recipe from Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson(You can read some of Nigella's recipes for free at her website nigella.com. Though I don't think this risotto recipe is available there.) I replaced shallot and celery with leek for less punchy flavors that wouldn't compete with our fresh-from-the-farm-market asparagus.

Lemon and Asparagus Risotto

Makes 4 servings

2 large leeks
6 stalks of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (can be replaced with additional olive oil)
1 1/3 risotto rice (I like Arborio)
approx. 1 quart vegetable stock
zest and juice of 1/2 unwaxed lemon
needles from 2 small sprigs of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan (I like Grana Padano instead)
4 tablespoons heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

First prepare the leeks. Trim off the roots, leaving the bulb end intact, and cut off all the dark green tops, leaving about 2 inches of pale green stem and all the white part. Halve the leeks lengthwise and splay open the layers with your hands. Rub each layer with your fingers while holding the leek under running water to dislodge any grit. After cleaning the leeks, slice them thinly and set aside.

Heat the stock in another saucepan and, when it is simmering, use it to blanch the asparagus for exactly 2 minutes. remove the asparagus and set it aside. Keep the stock simmering.

At the same time, heat the butter and oil in a large wide saucepan or pot. Add the leek and cook until it's soft, stirring often. Mix in the rice and stir until it is well coated with oil and butter.

Toast the rice until it begins to turn translucent, then pour a ladleful of the vegetable stock into the rice and keep stirring until the stock is absorbed. Then add another ladleful and stir again. Continue doing this until the rice is al dente. You may not need all of the vegetable stock.

Stir the lemon zest and rosemary into the risotto and in a small bowl beat the egg yolk, lemon juice, grated cheese, cream and pepper. When the risotto is ready (when the rice is no longer chalky, but still has some bite) take it off the heat and add the asparagus and the bowl of eggy, lemony mixture. Salt to taste and serve with more grated cheese on top. Garnish with lemon zest if you wish.

Our asparagus came from Monica Bongue at Muddy Fork Farm. Monica was born in Cali, Colombia, came to the U.S. to earn a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from U.C., Davis and now runs a farm in Wooster, Ohio. Her asparagus is wonderful and she sells at the Shaker Square Farmers' Market.

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