02 February 2009

A Winter Treat

I don't like going to the grocery store. Don't get me wrong -- I love shopping for food. But when you combine a budget and those glowing lights and high ceilings, it just doesn't feel so fun. For a while I was writing a weekly menu and shopping exclusively for that menu. I dreaded writing the menus, and, while it took the thinking out of the nightly dinners, it also felt constraining at times. Maybe when Wednesday rolled around, I didn't feel like Turkey Meatloaf Patties. Or maybe it sounded good, but I just didn't have the energy.

Basically, I'm just not a planner. I simply operate better when I don't think and just do. Sometimes that makes for a very bad dinner. But thankfully, more often than not, it leads to something much better or more creative than if I'd planned the entire thing out a week in advance. Plus, I've noticed that I am being more resourceful with my pantry and not wasting as much (which is always the danger if you buy an ingredient with just one dish in mind).

This is how I came to know a beautiful dish I named Roasted Butternut Squash and Golden Beet Risotto. I guess I used all my creativity to make the dish, not name it.

I had a big squash awaiting my attention and decided to cube it and roast it one afternoon. I added the golden beets because I was afraid I might forget I had them if I didn't cook them at once. I wasn't quite sure what I'd do with the roasted veggies, but I knew if I took the time to roast them in the afternoon, a dinner would come much easier. As I reached in the cabinet for the polenta (anything on top of polenta makes a meal in my book), I noticed the Arborio rice. I instantly could picture a delicious golden risotto.

So, that's how the dish came about. It wasn't really very insightful, but wow, it was good. The roasted squash and beets take on a subtle sweetness, and the squash practically melts in to the dish while the beets maintain their cubed shape, making for a nice texture overall.

Of course the trick to a good risotto is paying attention and checking the grains during the cooking process. Otherwise, you could end up with a pile of mush. Another risotto tip is that if you'll be adding parm or another salty cheese, go easy on the seasoning until the end. It would be easy to over salt and turn all of your hard work into an inedible meal.

Oh, and in keeping with my latest trend, I topped my risotto with crumbled bacon. It was delicious, of course, but a vegetarian version would be just as delightful.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Golden Beet Risotto
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed

3 golden beets, peeled and cubed (reserve greens for garnish)

1 medium onion, diced

1, 32-ounce box of chicken or veg stock (Pacific is organic, easy to find and affordable)

2 cups Arborio rice
3/4 cup + finely grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Toss cubed squash and beets in olive oil, pepper and a pinch of salt. Liberally sprinkle baking dish with salt and add veggies. The salt on the pan will help keep veggies from sticking. Roast squash and beets in a 400 degree oven until a knife easily slides through. Be sure the squash and beets are all cubed to equal size, so cooking time will be even. Roasting will take approximately 25 minutes for a cube a little smaller than 1-inch. Once cooked through, remove and set aside. This step can be done ahead. Store covered in the refrigerator after completely cooled. Bring to room temperature before adding to final dish.

Pour stock into a sauce pan and heat over low heat. In a wide-bottomed pot, saute onion in olive oil. Add rice and cook over medium heat, stirring, until grains just begin to turn translucent on edges. Add a ladle or two full of stock to the rice and stir. Continue stirring and adding stock. There should be just enough stock to almost cover the grains. Do not add more until the stock has been absorbed. Continue this process, checking occassionally to see if the grains are cooked through. When they are nearly cooked through, go easy on the stock, trying to make sure that the liquid is cooked down at same time the rice is done. Add in parm and veggies and stir lightly until incorporated. Add seasoning to taste. More cheese could be added for a richer, saltier taste.
Serve immediately topped with additional cheese and garnish with chopped beet greens.

Alternate method: Top with bacon if desired. Cook bacon in wide-bottomed pot and saute onion in bacon drippings instead of olive oil.

This recipe will make approximately three to four meal-size portions or probably double that for a side dish.


Erin Middlewood said...

You are so creative! My husband insists on having the same things over and over. He gets really grumpy if we don't have spaghetti on Wednesday and pizza on Friday. But I'm trying to get better at offering the occasional wild card.

d.e. hovde said...

I love this recipe and its genesis. Will make it soon. I am always trying to turn my beets into something more than salad garnish.