Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Leek and acorn squash risotto

I won't bore you with a story today. But I will tell you that I discovered that Google Chrome is awesome. Maybe I am behind in the times but I just got around to installing this life changing browser yesterday. I have been using Firefox for the past 5 years which has served me just fine until about 6 months ago. My computer has been freezing constantly for quite awhile now. I finally realised this only happens when Firefox is open. It has become so awful that anytime I click on one thing, my computer takes a full 30 seconds to process (change windows, tabs, website etc). I tried switch to Explorer but found it also to be slow.

Sunday night, I downloaded Google Chrome and my computer has not frozen since. I can browse as many websites as I want and have all the programs I want open without delay. I was seriously ready to burn my computer, why did I not think of this months ago? 

There is one problem. I realise that my website looks a little different in Google Chrome. Maybe it is my settings but all my words are too small. If I enlarge the font from my usual settings, the words are too big. I have to figure out a way to fix this because the way my website looks in Firefox is how I like it. So bear with me if you come for a visit and things look weird.

Tonight was the first time in a week I have made something worth talking about. I finally brought the arborio rice out of storage to make some delish risotto, something I have not made since last spring. It was a fitting dish to make for one of the coldest days of the year here in Vancouver. Last year, I had my technique and three risotto recipes perfected. I was a little rusty tonight but know exactly where I went wrong, I added my squash too late, didn't use enough salt and was missing basil.

The first time I ever made risotto, I was not sure what final product I was aiming for. 
Risotto is difficult to make if you have never had it before because it is hard to tell when it is done and what the final texture should be like. It was not until my friend Vesna had me over for supper and made the most amazing and decadent mushroom risotto that I realised what I was trying to achieve.

If you look at the two pictures above, I have captured what risotto looks like almost done, then completely done, as I see it. Can you see how on the left the rice still has its shape and the sauce is thin? On the right the sauce is thick and starchy and is holding the rice together which looks slightly less distinct. That is what I aim for, but you may prefer the rice more al dente, as I know some people do

When I make risotto it is usually the only thing I eat except for maybe a salad. It is very filling and this recipe makes a lot so you can count on having leftovers (something I am rarely ever able to count on with Mike in the house).

Leek and acorn squash risotto
Winter seasonal: leek, onion and winter squash
Depending on your preference you can make this dish with distinct pieces of acorn squash in the final product, or you can make it so the squash disappears into the sauce and the dish. If you prefer the latter, add the squash right in the beginning, with the onion and leek. If you want solid pieces, add it when I indicate in the recipe, sometime after the onion is cooked. Just make sure your squash pieces are not too big or they might not cook through by the end. If the first time you make risotto you are not impressed, try again, it is a dish that can take a while to master.

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped leek (white and light green parts only)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 of a small acorn squash (or other winter squash), peeled, seeded and chopped into 1/4" cubes
1.5 cups arborio rice
8 cups vegetable stock (try to find one without MSG...)
1 - 2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Basil to garnish

1 - Heat oil over medium heat in a very large sauce pan.
2 - In a separate, large pot, bring 8 cups of vegetable broth to a near boil, turn down heat and keep hot while making risotto.
3 - Add leek and onion to oil in pan and cook about 8 minutes, stirring often, until soft but not brown.
4 - Stir in squash, mix in, then stir in rice.
5 - Continue to stir rice, letting it absorb the oil from the pan, it should turn slightly opaque, for about 3 minutes.
6 - Stir in wine, mix, then add about 1/2 cup of broth. Mix to combine and let simmer briefly and stir until liquid is mostly absorbed.
7 - For the next 20 to 30 minutes follow this procedure: add about 1/3 cup of broth to rice. Stir to combine. Let the rice and squash simmer in the liquid 30 seconds, stir again a couple of seconds. If broth is mostly absorbed add another 1/3 cup of broth and repeat; if broth is not absorbed let simmer another 30 seconds, then stir, adding broth when most of the liquid has been absorbed.
8 - Mix in thyme after about 15 minutes
***When you add the broth it should start to bubble right away; if it does not, either your broth or your rice is not hot enough. 
***The bubbling should be gentle, not vigorous. If the bubbling is intense, turn down the heat slightly, otherwise the liquid will evaporate too fast. 
***In the beginning, the liquid should absorb quickly, as you progress it will take longer and longer for the liquid to absorb. So you will have to stir and simmer more often near the end of the cooking time. 
***You don't need to be stirring the risotto non-stop. It is okay to regularly step back for a minute, then stir. But don't leave it more than a couple minutes or your rice will stick to your pan and it wont cook evenly.
9 - If you run out of broth, use hot water to continue cooking. Continue cooking until squash is soft, the rice is cooked through and the sauce is thick and starchy.
10 - When you think you have reached the perfect consistency, take a small spoonful, cool on a plate a few seconds, then taste. Continue to cook if it is not as soft as you would like. Add sea salt if needed and freshly ground pepper to taste.
11 - If it is done, stir in 1/2 of the parmesan and a glob of butter, mix well.
12 - Serve risotto topped with fresh parmesan, sea salt and pepper if needed, and fresh basil or thyme.

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