Wednesday, 8 April 2009

butternut squash and sage risotto

Just to guard against any possible allegations of impropriety, I want to let you know that I ruined this risotto last night. Risotto is dead easy, it just requires a bit of focus, and a certain stubbornness ... neither of which I had at the time.

Anyway, I'll tell you how it should be done in a minute.

Once you've got the basics down, you can make risotto with whatever you like. I've put a few ideas at the bottom of the post but first of all, a couple of tips.

Rice - I tend to use Carnaroli, it's a large grain with a nutty white centre. Arborio is good too, a bit starchier, and apparently the thing for classic risotto Milanese, Vialone is a shorter, rounder grain, good for more soupy risotto and with seafood. It's worth buying good rice, the whole dish rests on it.

Still on the rice, don't rinse it. I don't seriously imagine you would, but wet rice grains repel the fat, which is not what you want. Also, at that crucial end point, don't wait for the rice to be 'perfect' - by the time you get it to the table it will be overdone. That's what I did last night. Take it off the heat when there's still a little bit too much bite to it.

Go for a heavy based pan for even heat distribution.

Heat the stock while you're adding it.

Last tip, be attentive, watch the pot, stir it rhythmically, keep tasting. I love making risotto, but I do need to resign myself to half an hour stood at the hob without distraction. Maybe other people can be trusted to keep half an eye on it, but I'm a bit all of nothing I suppose.

butternut squash and sage risotto

320g carnaroli rice
1 litre hot chicken stock - by all means use vegetable stock for a vegetarian version
medium onion, finely chopped
40g butter
125ml white wine
medium butternut squash, roasted and diced
handful chopped fresh sage
a lemon
salt and pepper

This should do four of you

Get your two pans on the hob, one full of stock gently simmering or just below a simmer, and the other a thick based saucepan ready for your risotto.

Melt the butter in the risotto pan, and gently cook the chopped onion until soft. Add the rice, and coat well in the fat until transparent.

Add the glass of wine and stir into the rice, gently but continuously until it's all absorbed.

Add the stock to the rice gradually, ladle by ladle, waiting for each one to be absorbed before adding another, stirring gently. Keep doing this for about 15 minutes, tasting, stirring ... thinking, adding stock until the rice is ready. You want it to have a good bit of bite to it still at the end. Also, the consistency should be slightly soupy. I'm not talking swimming, but if you can put it in a fancy mould and pile it up then it's too dry.

Once the rice is there, stir in the chopped squash and sage. Taste it. Add a generous grating of parmesan ... taste it again. Add salt and pepper if you need to, and a squeeze of lemon.

The sage was from the terrace. I'd been meaning to cook with it, but not quite managing to. Apart from the dreadful rice, the taste was really very good - the sage and lemon cutting though the starchiness, bringing lightness to the dish.

The more I cook with lemons and limes, the more I become obsessed with that little citrus lift, that little extra freshness and complexity they give to cous cous, risotto and things ... the difference a bit of zest makes to a crumble or to steamed beans. It works perfectly here.

If you don't fancy sage, or squash, you could try these ...

A pure lemony risotto with zest and juice to serve with chicken
Peas and lots of fresh mint
If you've made it with chicken stock, chances are you've got a pot of all the little picky bits off the chicken carcass - throw them in
Dried wild mushrooms - porchini and the like - conserve the water you used to rehydrate them and use it half / half with the stock
Pheasant. I've only done this once, and it was great. I used pheasant stock and flesh, but do watch out for shot (I didn't)
Spinach - another of my favourites. Baby spinach particularly is such a versatile thing, you can stir it in right at the end here

That really is just a starter for ten. I'm sure there are a whole host of seafoody, tomatoey type things too.

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