Butternut Squash and Kale Risotto

Some days I have a really hard time getting inspired. I’ll walk around the aisles of the grocery store like a zombie, picking stuff up and putting it back. It’s those days where I end up just buying ingredients then figuring out a use later… which sometimes works out and sometimes just means I have to head back to the store. Luckily, it worked out for me on this day, when I picked up a butternut squash and some kale on my wander around the 3rd grocery store that day. After a quick Google, I settled on tweaking an Epicurious recipe for risotto and using this foodmomiac recipe as guidance.

First I got out my trusty ingredients… and a wooden mallet. It’s my secret weapon for getting through big hard-to-cut veg.

Be really careful when you slice your butternut squash open – it’s easy to slip and cut off a finger! I split this one in half and scooped out the seeds with a spoon.

I then sliced the whole thing into 1/2 inch pieces, and laid them out on an oiled baking sheet. I kept the skin on – inspired by Jamie Oliver! He said on a recent show that, once baked, the hard skin becomes much softer but keeps a bit of chew – and he was right! I baked them in the oven at 450 for about half an hour, and flipped them half way through.

While the squash was in the oven, I got to work on the kale. My local grocery store sells it in massive bunches – so I only used 1/4 to 1/2 of it for this recipe. I removed the tough stems and tore each leaf into bite-sized pieces. Kale tends to be quite tough compared to other leafy veg, so I gave it a head start by sauteing  it in a bit of olive oil for about 5 minutes.

Once the squash had cooled, I chopped it into small dice-sized cubes. I only needed about half of the roasted squash, so I stashed the other half in my freezer in a ziploc bag, to use another day. I also put a stock pot on the stove with 6 cups of water and 2 vegetable stock cubes, and brought it to the boil. Meanwhile, I finely chopped a medium onion and minced two cloves of garlic.

In a large pot over medium heat, I sauteed 1/2 a teaspoon of cumin, the onion and garlic until softened and translucent. Actually, it got a little brown because I wasn’t paying attention… but I had intended to do it until it was translucent.

I then added another glug of olive oil because the pan looked a little dry. Once warmed, I stirred in 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice, making sure it got coated in the oil and changed to translucent (a couple minutes). It’s really important to use actual arborio rice (or a similar starchy short-grain rice), not a long-grain one like basmati. This is because risotto depends on the rice releasing lots of starch into the cooking liquid, which gives it the creamy consistency. Long grain rice just doesn’t do that the way short grain rice does.

Now onto the liquid-stir-repeat phase. This is how the starch is teased out of the grains of rice. First liquid of choice: white wine… because I like it… and was already drinking some while I cooked. This one’s from an Ontario winery in Beamsville (near Niagara) called Angels Gate. It’s their 2009 Sussreserve Riesling. Yum.

I kept stirring and it kept simmering until the wine was absorbed. Then I started ladling in the hot broth from the other pot. I’d pour in just one ladle, stirring and cooking until the liquid was absorbed, then I’d repeat. This went on for a while… 20-30 minutes I’d say. You want to continuously keep tasting, checking to see if the rice is cooked through (but not mushy!) because this is one of those scenarios where you can’t just set a timer and walk away. I didn’t actually end up using all the broth I made. Once you’ve got it to the perfect doneness, you’ve got a basic risotto that you could use as a base for many things (but maybe hold off on that cumin if it doesn’t go with your flavour combination!).

I then gently stirred in the squash cubes, kale, and about a 1/4 cup of finely grated pecorino romano. I also seasoned it with pepper and a little salt, then topped my bowl with more cheese and some roasted squash seeds.

I actually froze individual portions of this meal to bring to work or have for a lazy dinner. I know, it sounds blasphemous. The trick, though, with pre-prepared risotto, is to slightly undercook it. When the rice still had a bit too much bite, I pulled it off the heat, and ladled portions into tupperware containers. I then ladled a small amount of additional broth over top of the risotto and popped the containers in the freezer. When you want to eat it, thaw it, and microwave, stirring frequently, to bring it back to risotto consistency. Trust me, your colleagues will be jealous of your gourmet lunch… and you’ll be eating a hearty vegetarian meal!


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