Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon

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Ugh, you guys. I’ve been trying to get motivated to cook all week, and I really just couldn’t do it. When I first started this blog, I had so many recipes I was excited to make and share. I’m not sure if I’ve made all of them or what, but here it is November, the month of roasted veggies and soups and comfort foods and pumpkin spice and basically all of my favorite things, and I’ve been completely uninspired. Yesterday I decided I would perhaps just take the month off. I mean, I had posted consistently for the past seven weeks – that’s almost two whole months – so certainly I deserved a break. But then, this morning I remembered a recipe I’ve been meaning to make for the past five Novembers now (I know that it’s five because the cookbook where it comes from was a hostess gift from my friend Lindsay, when a group of us threw her a baby shower for her little guy who turns four next week, sob!). Butternut squash and risotto are two of my favorite things, so I don’t know how it’s taken me so long, but for whatever reason it has. All of the sudden I inspired not only for the blog, but for dinner too.

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Risotto is one of those things that I think a lot of people are afraid to try at home for fear that it’s too much work. Or at least, risotto is one of those things that I used to be afraid to try at home because I feared it was too much work.  While it does require a half an hour of hanging out near your stove, it’s a half hour where all you have to do is stir a pot and maybe drink a glass of wine (the recipe calls for one third of a cup, which leaves a lot of wine left for drinking). The prep time is pretty minimal – at least if you use a food processor to grate the squash – so all things considered this is a relatively easy meal to throw together. Once your squash is grated and your leek is sliced, you get to just stand by the stove and stir, chatting with whomever is in your kitchen or scrolling through your instagram feed from the day. I minced my garlic straight into the pan, and once the risotto was done cooking zested the lemon and squeezed the juice right in as well.

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I have a few tips, but they’re pretty minor. (1) I wasn’t sure how much half a pound of squash was, so I used two cups, the better part of the small squash I had on hand. (2) At first I found the rice was sticking the the pan quite a bit, which was why I used a little extra wine to deglaze the pan. Nothing like dumping wine straight from the bottle into a Le Cruset to make you feel like a real chef! (3) At the beginning my rice was absorbing the stock pretty quickly, so I was worried I would get through the 6 cups before the 25-30 minute cooking time, which is what happened. Although the sauce was creamy after 30 minutes, the rice was still a little crunchy, so I added a bit more stock and left it on the stove for five minutes longer, at which point it was perfect. (4) The reason the cheese is optional in the recipe as written is because Melissa’s husband doesn’t eat cheese. As such, she uses it as an optional garnish, but I stirred a bit in as well. The risotto doesn’t really need it, but I find that parm makes everything better. Finally, (5), I was a little iffy on the pistachios but decided to follow the recipe to the letter for the sake of the blog (you’re welcome). They’re $$$ – even buying a small amount in bulk was $10 – and hard to chop. I expected I would write that you didn’t need them – but while again the risotto would be delicious on its own, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they in fact add quite a bit both in terms of flavor and crunch.

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OK so there you have it – my “weekly” post at 4:30 on a dreary Thursday afternoon – late, but still with enough time for you to make this for dinner tonight. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

One Year Ago: Green Chile Posole
Two Years Ago: Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Risotto, Previously: Corn Risotto-Stuffed Peppers
Melissa Clark, Previously: Double Coconut GranolaOlive Oil Banana BreadSplit Pea SoupCorned Beef and CabbageRoasted HalibutCarrot Mac and CheeseKale SaladSesame Soba SaladBrown Butter Nectarine CobblerPort-Braised Short Ribs, Capellini with Bacon, Rosemary, and Tomatoes

Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon

1/2 pound peeled butternut squash
6 cups (approximately) chicken or vegetable stock
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 cups arborio rice
2 rosemary branches
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste (I used low sodium chicken stock and found that I needed quite a bit more salt)
1/3 cup dry white wine (I added a couple additional splashes)
Finely grated zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste ( I used quite a bit more)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped salted pistachios
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

1. In a food processor fitted with a grating attachment, shred the squash. (Or use a box grater, but it will be harder to do.  You can also just dice into small cubes, which will taste just fine but won’t dissolve into a sauce like the shreds do). In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Melt the butter in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute longer. Add rice, squash, rosemary, and salt. Stir until most of the grains of rice appear semitranslucent, 3-4 minutes. This means they have absorbed some of the fat from the pan, which will help keep the grains separate as they form their creamy sauce.

2. Pour the wine into the pan and let it cook off for about two minutes. Add a ladleful of stock (about 1/2 cup) and cook, stirring constantly and making sure to scrape around the sides, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Continue adding stock, one ladelful at a time, and stirring almost constantly until the risotto has turned creamy and thick, and the grains of rice are tender with a bit of bite, 25-30 minutes (Melissa says you may not need all of the stock, although I found that I needed more – my risotto was creamy after the 6 cups were used up but the rice was still a little too crunchy – it needed a couple more splashes of stock and five more minutes on the stove). Remove rosemary stems and stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and black pepper. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice if needed (mine needed both). Garnish with the pistachios and optional cheese before serving.

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Capellini with Bacon, Rosemary, and Very Ripe Tomatoes

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I know, it doesn’t sound that exciting. And it’s an odd recipe for me to make as I don’t eat bacon (and I try not to eat pasta, albeit usually unsuccessfully). Also I typically prefer my rosemary in cocktails.  So in light of all that, believe me when I tell you that you should make this for dinner tonight, that’s how good it is. I did a quick inventory of the blog archives the other night as I was searching for dinner inspiration, and realized that although I’ve posted a lot of Cook This Now recipes, I had never posted anything from September (the recipes are categorized seasonally, by month). Moreover, I had never even made anything from the September chapter. This pasta jumped out at me as it looked quick and easy (I didn’t have a ton of time), it still felt (still feels!) way too much like summer to start making hearty fall dishes yet, and most importantly, my cherry tomatoes were (still are!) falling off the vine faster than I could pick them. Leave it to Melissa to anticipate my every late September need.

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This dish comes together so easily as written, and although I know I’ll make it again, what I really love about it is that it reminded me how easy it is to make your own tomato sauce. There’s no need to get any fancy ingredients or even roast the tomatoes beforehand, you can literally just sauté fresh tomatoes – cherry, heirloom, roma, what have you – in a little bit of olive oil (or bacon grease, if that’s your thing), add some herbs, and you have a delicious meal in ten minutes. I made this, start to finish, during halftime of the Monday Night Football game. I even made a vegetarian version for myself (I added fennel per Melissa’s suggestion, and it was delish!). And it’s a great way to use those tomatoes that are on their last legs – mine are so ripe that they literally burst as you pluck them from the vine. Added bonus: it will make your kitchen smell AH-mazing.

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This sauce gets a little kick from the garlic and red pepper, and the balsamic is a lovely addition (I think red wine vinegar would be good too). And of course I love basil and parmesan on all pasta dishes/all things. Melissa specifically calls for Pecorino Romano but for some reason I had Parmigiano-Reggiano in my head. So I splurged on the $20/pound stuff (it’s the king of cheese!) and would very much recommend it – the dish is so simple that you can really taste the difference. But I’m sure Pecorino Romano would be delicious as well, and probably a little cheaper. A bowl of forbidden carbs, a delicious jammy fresh tomato sauce, fancy cheese, and of course the requisite glass of wine that must go along with any pasta – it was the perfect consolation prize as my fantasy team under-performed it’s way to 0-3.

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One year ago: Corn Risotto-Stuffed Poblano Peppers
Pasta, Previously: Penne with Asparagus and Chèvre, Crunchy Baked Pasta with SausageCarrot Mac and Cheese, Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore, Barefoot Contessa’s Mac and Cheese, World’s Best Mac and Cheese (yikes, that’s a lot of mac and cheese!)
Melissa Clark, Previously: Double Coconut Granola, Olive Oil Banana Bread, Split Pea Soup, Corned Beef and CabbageRoasted Halibut, Carrot Mac and Cheese, Kale SaladSesame Soba Salad, Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler, Port-Braised Short Ribs

Pasta with Bacon, Rosemary, and Very Ripe Tomatoes, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

8 ounces pasta (any kind you like)
3 ounces bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces (using thick-cut bacon, 3 ounces will be 3 slices)
1 large bushy rosemary sprig
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 very large (or 3 medium) tomatoes, a mix of red and yellow is nice (I used 2 large handfuls cherry tomatoes)
Balsamic vinegar, optional
Soft herbs, if you want this to look pretty (I used basil and Italian parsley)
Pecorino Romano, optional (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)

1. Cook pasta in a large pot of heavily salted water
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper-towel lined plate, leaving the grease in the pan (if it looks really greasy, spoon some out; you just need a thin layer, enough to sauté the garlic without burning).
3. Add the rosemary, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste to the skillet and cook until the garlic is lightly browned, 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and let the sauce simmer until the pasta is cooked.  Season aggressively with more salt and black pepper. If it tastes flat, add a few drops of vinegar.
4. Drain pasta and top with the sauce.  Sprinkle with bacon pieces, cheese, and fresh herbs, if using.

Note from Melissa: Onions or leeks are a nice addition if you have them on hand – sauté them in the bacon fat for a few minutes before adding the garlic and red pepper. You can also add chopped fennel, in which case save the fronds for garnish.

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Melissa Clark’s Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs

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When I first started this blog two years ago (!!!), it felt like I was posting a Melissa Clark recipe every other week.  I forced myself to take a break for awhile, so that I wouldn’t post every recipe she’s ever written, but tragically that meant that this, my most successful dinner party recipe to date, never made it onto the blog. Since I don’t eat red meat, I can’t tell you from personal experience how delicious these ribs may or may not be. However, I’ve made them a number of times now, and have passed on the recipe to family and friends, each time with rave reviews. Since I cook primarily for the accolades, I make these ribs a lot.

This recipe comes from the January chapter of Cook This Now (Melissa organizes the recipes in this cookbook by month), so I had every intention of posting it two months ago. But as you may have noticed, Blueberries and Basil is off to a slow start this year, so my “January Short Ribs” are a little delayed – I hope you can forgive me.  After all, most of the country is still experiencing January weather. And even in the Pacific Northwest, where it feels like May, it turns out short ribs are still well received even when it’s 50 degrees at dinner time.

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Many of you are probably familiar with how to braise short ribs – but I really wasn’t, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is. it’s the perfect make-ahead meal (dinner party or otherwise) because you can prepare it in advance, pop it in the oven, and not give it a second thought for the next three hours. Simply reduce your port* and wine**, brown your meat, sauté your veggies, dump everything into your Dutch oven and bake (technically braise, I suppose) for three hours while you clean your kitchen, make dessert, take a nap, run errands – you get the idea. Three hours to do whatever you like while a delicious meal comes together in the oven, all on it’s own. *Melissa uses port and wine, but if you don’t feel like buying a bottle of port only to use half a cup, I confess I’ve made them without the port before and haven’t heard any complaints. **The recipe calls for a dry red wine – I googled “dry red wine for short ribs” (because that’s the level of sophistication I have when it comes to using wine in cooking) and found most people recommend a petit syrah, so that’s what I’ve been using, but I think you could use whatever you have on hand.

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Meat usually grosses me out, but even I have to admit, they’re kind of pretty.  And they make your kitchen smell amazing!  The original recipe is technically for oxtails (speaking of being grossed out) rather than short ribs, so Melissa tells you the meat should be “almost” falling off the bone after two and a half hours. I’m assuming the rules for short ribs are different, as mine are usually actually falling off the bone after an hour or so. Again, I don’t eat them so I can’t say for certain, but I’m constantly asking people if they’re overdone and am assured they are perfect. But that said, if you needed to shorten the cooking time a bit I think you’d be ok. The beauty of braising, I’m learning, is that you really can’t go wrong. Bon appétit!

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Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
1/2 cup ruby port
3 lbs beef short ribs
Kosher salt, for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 shallots, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium leeks, chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary  sprigs
1 bunch parsley stems (use some of the leaves for garnish, if you like)
2 bay leaves
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and diced small
Balsamic vinegar to taste

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the wine and port to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, brown the short ribs. Season them generously with salt and pepper (you will need at least two teaspoons salt and one teaspoon pepper, or possibly more – enough to get the meat well coated). In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil. Working in batches, arrange the short ribs in a single layer and brown on all sides.  Take your time with this and let them get good and brown; don’t crowd the pan, or they will steam and never develop that tasty caramelized crust. Transfer the short ribs to a bowl.
3. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the Dutch oven and add the shallots, garlic, leeks, and celery.  Cook the vegetables, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan, until softened, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.
4. Arrange the short ribs over the vegetables and add the reduced wine-port mixture. Using kitchen twine, tie together the thyme, rosemary, parsley stems, and bay leaves, and drop into the pot. (You can skip the twine and simply drop the herbs into the pot if you don’t have kitchen twine on hand – although it’s a bit of a pain to fish them out before serving).  Bring the liquid to a boil on the stovetop, then cover and transfer the Dutch oven to the oven. Cook, turning the ribs occasionally (or not), until the meat is tender but not yet falling off the bone, 2 to 2 1/2 hours (mine always seem to be falling off the bone by the two hour mark, but I give them 2 1/2 regardless if time allows). Add the carrots and cook another 30 minutes.
5. Season with balsamic vinegar and additional salt, if desired. Serve over mashed potatoes and top with parsley.

*If you’re serving the short ribs right away, as I usually am, you can spoon some of the fat off of the surface if it looks a little greasy (mine never seem to). You can also refrigerate and serve the next day; in that case the fat is easy to scrape off – although you lose a lot of your vegetables with it.

**In lieu of short ribs, you could use: 4 1/2 pounds oxtail pieces, 4 lamb foreshanks, 2-3 pounds brisket or chuck roast, or 2 pounds boneless beef stew meat.

***In lieu of mashed potatoes, you could serve over polenta, roasted potatoes, roasted root vegetables, or anything else that suits your fancy. You could also serve it on its own, as a simple stew.

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Sesame Soba Salad with Roasted Shiitakes and Tofu Croutons

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If you, like me, are a fan of cold, spicy noodle dishes, then this salad is for you.  It’s reminiscent of the Pasta and Co. Chinese Vermicelli salad I was obsessed with during college, only that salad has about three times the oil.  This version is lighter, but equally delicious.  I feel like soba noodles are healthy.  And if mushrooms or tofu are deal breakers for you, you can swap them for any other veggies and/or protein you like (although I hope that you won’t, as this is a Melissa Clark recipe and she really knows her stuff).

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If mushrooms aren’t your thing – and don’t get me wrong, they absolutely should be, but since I know that for a lot of people they are not – you could easily leave them out. The noodles are great on their own, and you could add in any crunchy vegetables that you like – I might add some julienned red bell peppers next time.  While I’m not usually a huge fan of tofu, it turns out it’s pretty good when deep fried with sesame oil and tamari.  But you could do this with grilled chicken (marinated in the aforementioned sesame oil and tamari, even), or sautéed shrimp or scallops (Melissa’s alternate suggestion).  Aside from the mushrooms and the tofu, the salad takes five minutes to throw together – you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry already – and you can doctor it up any way you like. The soba noodles are delicious – and naturally gluten free (made from buckwheat), although you need to check the packaging to make sure.

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If you are a mushroom person, I will tell you that the extra step is worth it here – the roasted shiitakes are SO dang good. I made this the other day without them (only because I had everything but the mushrooms and was too lazy to go to the store) and I really missed the texture and meatiness they normally add.

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The vinaigrette is simply soy sauce, a little sesame oil, rice vinegar, orange juice, and freshly grated ginger – it’s so easy to put together, I wonder why I don’t do it for every meal. The cucumber is great for crunch, and I’m of the opinion that cilantro makes everything better.  Take an extra two minutes to toast your sesame seeds, and you have a gourmet, healthy, and delectable meal that’s almost too pretty to eat.

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The one thing I would note about frying the tofu is that it makes a huge mess – I’ve finally learned my lesson and taken everything else off the stove so that the splatters are limited to the stove top – and I think the cleanup is worth it. You could also add the tofu plain, however, and save yourself the calories and the mess.

One year ago: white bean and kale soup

Melissa Clark, previously: coconut granola, banana bread, split pea soup, corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, pan roasted halibut, carrot mac’n’cheese, kale salad.

Sesame Soba Salad with Roasted Shiitakes and Tofu Croutons, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

Serves 4

For the Salad:
7-8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
2 tablespoons toasted (Asian) sesame oil, more to taste
3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 (12.8 ounce) package soba noodles
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (about half a small orange)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon grated ginger root
1 medium cucumber, peeled
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame seeds

For the Croutons (optional):
1/2 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and sliced into 3/4-inch slabs
1 tablespoon peanut or olive oil
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted (Asian) sesame oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the mushroom caps into 1/4 inch strips. Toss the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, and a pinch of salt. Spread the mushrooms out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and slightly golden, 8-10 minutes.

2. Cook soba noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse quickly under cold running water; drain again completely.

3. In a bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 3 tablespoons soy sauce, the orange juice, vinegar, and ginger.

4. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into quarters and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut each quarter crosswise into thin slices.

5. To prepare the tofu croutons, pat the tofu slabs dry with a paper towel. Heat the oil in a nonstick pan. When it shimmers, add the tofu and let it cook undisturbed (stand away from the pan, as the oil will splatter) for 3 minutes. It should be golden brown on the bottom. Flip the tofu pieces and continue to cook for about 2 minutes longer, until the underside is golden. In a small bowl, whisk together the tamari or soy sauce and sesame oil. Pour it in the pan with the croutons and cook for 1 minute longer. Drain croutons on a paper towel-lined place.

6. In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, cucumber, mushrooms, scallions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and dressing. Serve topped with the tofu croutons, if desired. Drizzle the salad with more soy sauce and/or sesame oil just before serving if it needs perking up.

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