14 January 2008

A Squash Story

This winter I discovered squash. If you are familiar with my culinary methods at all, you know that when I say "discovered" I mean "became obsessively infatuated with..." I've made squash and pumpkin soups, pies, dips, spreads and purèes. I've baked, broiled, boiled, roasted, sautèed, browned, creamed and steamed it. In short, it was a delicious winter romance, and to think, it all started with a giant zucca from Genoa.
There is not a wide array of squash in Italy, my supermarket has only one drab variety of zucca. Vegetable vendors sell the zucca mantovana, which is sweeter and much more flavorful than the generic version, and every so often I run across a butternut squash as well. So, not surprisingly, I haven't been enthusiastic about exploring squash recipes since I've been over here. One time, however, I was at the fabulous Mercato Orientale in Genoa, and ran across the biggest, most beautiful zucca mantovana I'd ever seen. I had never cooked much with squash before, but it's bulbous belly and gleaming green skin charmed me. I immediately bought it, without considering the fact I was on foot, and about 3 miles from home. The thing weighed 20 lbs and was 3 times the size of my head. Between the monster squash and my various other provisions, I could barely hobble out of the market to hail a cab.
When I finally did get it home, I had no idea what to do with the monstrosity. It monopolized my fridge for about a week, looking less like a friendly squash and more like a menacing, overweight goblin. I was no less intimidated when I lugged it on the the counter- it completely dwarfed my cutting board, and made my largest, sharpest cleaver look like a butter knife. Several hours later, I had succeeded in carving the goblin, and was ready to embark on my winter-long affair.
The first thing I made was Nisa's fabulous Roasted Butternut-Pear Soup. Then I roasted the seeds, several ways. Then I made soup again, with variations. Then I made pumpkin pie. Then I experimented with risottos, which ended up being the most delicious variation. The list goes on, and so does the romance.

Delicious Roasted Butternut Risotto:


Arborio or other risotto rice (about 1/3 or 1/2 cup per person)
1 butternut squash
1-2 yellow or white onions
2 cloves or more garlic
1 Tbsp finely diced, fresh rosemary
1/2 cup white wine
broth or bouillon
Parmesan cheese

Peel, de-seed and cut the butternut in to 1 inch cubes. Toss in a roasting pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast it in the oven at 375° for 20-30 minutes or until it is soft when poked with fork, and starts to turn a darker golden. Remove and set aside to cool. When it's cooled off a bit, throw it in a food processor and whip it up.
While the squash is roasting, start your risotto: Bring broth to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer, covered. Process the onions, garlic and the finely diced rosemary using an immersion blender or food processor until they turn to finely diced mush. Toss the mix in your favorite risotto pan* with some olive oil and a slab of butter. Sautèe for about 5 minutes.
Add your rice (about 1/3 to 1/2 c. per person), and toast it for a minute, stirring to make sure it doesn't stick. Add the wine and let it sizzle and pop for a minute.
Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be mostly absorbed before adding the next.
After about 8 minutes, add the squash-mush. You don't want to add too much (it's not soup) just use your judgement. You want it to be flavorful and a rich, pretty color, but not to overwhelm the rice. Continue adding broth until rice is creamy-looking but still al dente, about 18 minutes total, depending on the rice (check out the instructions on the box). When the rice is done, add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a chunk of butter. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir, then cover the pot and let sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy thoroughly.

*a good risotto pan should be wider than it is tall, with a thick base. Non-stick is ideal, but whatever you have will work.


Emilio said...

I like this post! And the risotto!

Nisa said...

I like this post too! Stay tuned for another recipe from me that uses winter squash...