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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Corn Risotto-Stuffed Poblano Peppers

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As I may have mentioned on this blog once or twice, Smitten Kitchen is one of my very favorite food blogs.  So when Deb (the author) published her first cookbook two years ago, I promptly purchased a copy (and a ticket to her book signing, which was amazing). I was so excited to get my hands on the book, and read it cover to cover the day I received it. I flagged all of the recipes I wanted to try – and there were a lot.  The book came out in late October, so the first thing I made was a pumpkin gingersnap tart (which was delicious, and which probably belongs on this blog). And then, of course, the cookbook went onto the book shelf and I forgot about so many of the things I wanted to make, including her corn risotto-stuffed poblano peppers (no idea where the hyphen(s) belong there, but that’s how Deb titled it so that’s what I’m going with).  I would pull the cookbook out and flip through it occasionally, but it never seemed like the right time to roast peppers and make risotto.  The other night, however, it was cold and rainy for the first time in awhile, and I was getting an early start on dinner, so all of the sudden it seemed like the stars aligned.

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Of course it turns out I didn’t start quite early enough, as this recipe takes a fair amount of time. But an 8:30 dinner never killed anyone, and the recipe only calls for half a cup of beer, which means you can drink the rest of the bottle (and perhaps even a second) while you roast/peel/chop/stir. One way to save time would be to go to the grocery store beforehand, as that part took me almost an hour (I’m a grocery store wanderer). You could do the peppers and/or the risotto ahead of time, and then just assemble and bake at dinner time. Lastly, Trader Joe’s pre-chopped onions would be a good time saver. I was too lazy to make an extra stop, but as my eyes were burning while I chopped the onion I wished I had made the effort (actual conversation with my sister this morning: me: “it’s really worth the extra stop at Trader Joe’s just for the chopped onions.” Her, emphatically: “it is always worth stopping at Trader Joe’s for at least 10-15 items you can’t get anywhere else.” Words to live by!). Frozen corn would save time as well, but the fresh is so good right now that it’s worth the extra couple minutes.

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If you’ve ever roasted or charred peppers before, you know it’s super easy. If you haven’t, it might seem a bit daunting, but let me assure you it is not. If you have a gas stove top you can put the peppers directly on the grill; if not, putting them under the broiler works just as well. After making these, my tip would be: make sure the skins get completely blackened and “blistered.” I was worried I was burning mine so took them off the flame too soon – the blackened skin came off easily, but any parts that were still green didn’t want to come off at all. Which isn’t the end of the world, but to the extent you want your peppers skinned, make sure you char the peppers as much as possible. The good news is you can mess up the charring or the skinning or the de-seeding (see above) and they will still turn out delicious (although spicier with the seeds in).

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On the few occasions I’ve made risotto I always wonder why I don’t make it more often – it’s so easy and sooo good. And then I remember it’s a huge bowl of refined carbs with cheese, so unless I’m running a marathon the next day it’s perhaps not the healthiest choice for a meal. But let’s ignore that for now – here it’s very portion controlled, and involves corn and peppers – which are vegetables!! – so it could be a lot worse. And I accidentally bought reduced fat monterey jack cheese and it was still delicious, so there are ways to cut the calories if you’re worried about it (which apparently I am not). Aside from the 40 minute time frame and the fact that you have to be stirring it pretty frequently, it’s quite simple. In fact, it sounds like I may have to take up marathon running, because I’m now totally on a risotto kick.

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Corn Risotto-Stuffed Poblano Peppers, from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Ingredients:
8 large fresh poblano peppers
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup Mexican beer
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 2 cobs), or 1 1/2 cups frozen and defrosted corn kernels
3/4 cup monterey jack cheese (I used well over a cup, oops!)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon milk (I used lime juice)
Fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Prepare Peppers:
Place chiles directly onto gas burners and turn flame to high. Using tongs, rotate chiles frequently until their skins are blistered on all sides, about 4-6 minutes each. If you don’t have a gas stovetop, you can roast the chiles under the broiler (also turning frequently). Put blackened chiles in a bowl and cover tightly with saran wrap. NOTE: Deb says you can skip this step entirely if the skins don’t bother you.

Make Risotto:
In a medium saucepan, heat your stock to a low simmer. On a separate burner, heat a larger saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add olive oil and heat through. Add onion to hot oil and sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one minute longer. Add the rice to the pot and stir for a minute or two, until it becomes lightly toasted. Pour in the beer, scraping up any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. Let the beer simmer for a minute or so, until it’s almost disappeared. Ladle one cup of warm stock into rice mixture and simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently. Add remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, allowing stock to absorb before adding more, and stirring often. Along with the final addition of stock, add the corn. Total cooking time for the rice is about 30 minutes, after which it should be creamy and tender. Once all the stock and corn are added and stock is absorbed, stir in the monterey jack cheese and salt and pepper to taste (I found I needed a fair amount of salt and pepper, perhaps due to my low sodium chicken stock). Remove risotto from heat.

Assemble and Bake:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Remove chiles from bowl and gently rub off the skins, which should remove easily. Cut a slit lengthwise in each chile and remove the seeds and membranes as best you can. Leave the stems on – they’re cute. Fill each chile with risotto and arrange stuffed chiles in a baking dish. Sprinkle with the queso fresco. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until top begins to brown.

To Serve:
In a small dish, whisk together the sour cream and milk (or lime juice) with a pinch of salt. Drizzle the mixture over the hot chiles. Garnish with cilantro.