Risotto is a time-honored classic from Milan, in northern Italy, where the culinary emphasis is on dairy, unlike the tomato-based dishes of the south. It’s labor-intensive because you must slowly add liquid to the rice and stir constantly to coax it to creamy perfection. Risotto is an impressive dish for entertaining, but you want to have the technique down first. While you don’t want to make your first risotto when company’s coming, it can be mastered quickly, and once you know the basics, you can start to experiment with different ingredients—shrimp, wild mushrooms, peas and leaks…risotto is infinitely customizable.
- 1-1/2 pound squash, such as Hubbard or kabocha
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large fresh sage leaves, finely minced
- 1 leek, trimmed, cleaned and thinly sliced crosswise
- 5 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock, homemade or low-sodium canned
- 1-1/2 cups rice, such as Carnaroli, Vialone Nano or arborio
- 1 cup dry white wine, warmed
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
- 5 ounces baby spinach, rinsed and patted dry with paper towel
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel, seed and cut the squash into 1″ cubes to make 2 cups (if your yield is higher, roast them all and save the overflow to toss in a salad the next day). Place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet, add the squash and sage and toss to coat. Bake for 30 minutes or until tender, flipping them with your metal spatula at the halfway point.
Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium-low heat and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the leeks and sauté them until soft, but don’t let them color. While they’re cooking, heat the stock in a saucepan. Once the leeks are soft, immediately add the rice to the sauté pan and stir to thoroughly coat with the oil. Cook until the rice is slightly translucent, about 7 to 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium, add the wine and nutmeg, and stir until the liquid has nearly evaporated. Ladle a cup of the hot stock into the rice mixture and stir attentively. When the liquid has mostly been absorbed, stir in another cup of hot stock. Repeat until the rice is nearly al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano, the roasted squash and the spinach. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the squash is warmed through and the spinach is wilted. If the risotto seems a bit dry, add a little more stock. Season to taste—the risotto might taste salty enough from the cheese, but add a few twists from your pepper grinder. Top with more grated cheese and serve immediately.
|Yields 4 main course or 6 side dish servings.