Not too long ago I got a beautiful autumn squash box from Riverford organic farms. I love squash, pumpkins, gourd, all manner of orange fleshy beings. Growing up in South Africa I was lucky to have munched on Crown Prince with their hard grey skins and bright orange flesh (great for making pumpkin fritters), Hubbard squash, Gem Squash (not my favourite as a child but I have grown to enjoy them) and giant sweet butternut squash. We ate them in soups, mashed with butter and cinnamon sugar, roasted with honey, butter and sage and in sweet sticky fritters with green beans and meatloaf. Full of vitamin C, vitamin A, folic acid and iron, they are so versatile and delicious. I discovered the joys of pumpkin pie when trying to recreate the autumnal feel of the USA for a friend who was feeling homesick. Even though I say so myself they were quite tasty.
I get excited about the yearly delivery of the squash box. It's usually around Halloween, so I put a couple outside the front door as a sign that we're happy to receive "trick or treaters" at the door. Pile them up in the kitchen in a basket as decor and eat them until they come out of our ears. This year we got green kabacha, red onions, crown prince, butternut, harlequin and spaghetti squash. Don't get me started on the novelty of spaghetti squash, I love the stringy insides roasted and served with Bolognaise.
On the Italian train of thought; this last weekend with the cold having set in and the evenings getting shorter I got stuck into the kitchen in search of comfort food. What is there more comforting in this world than risotto. The soft, creamy texture of the rice with a hit of Parmesan, the fragrance of white wine and the addition of any flavour of your choice. The simpler the better in my mind. Here is my recipe for roasted butternut and beetroot risotto. I love the combination of the colours and textures. The sweet squash and the sweet earthy beetroot compliment each other really well and a spoon of Mascarpone cream cheese really makes a difference and adds a luxurious dimension at the end.
1 medium to large butternut, peeled, deseeded and diced
3 medium beetroot, peeled and chopped into medium size pieces
1 large white onion, finely diced
2 leeks, washed and finely sliced
2 sticks of celery finely sliced
4 large cloves or garlic, 2 peeled and crushed, 2 crushed in their skin
400 gr Arborio rice, found in any supermarket these days
200 ml dry white white wine, in this case I used an Alsatian Riesling
1 litre good quality home made vegetable stock or organic bouillon
100 gr salted butter, I use the SO butter from Sainsburys
2 Tbsp of good quality cold pressed olive or rapeseed oil
1 handful each sage and thyme leaves, removed from their stalks and ripped
Salt and pepper to taste
100 gr grated Paremesan cheese
1 Tbsp Mascarpone cream cheese
Heat the oven to 200 degrees, 180 degrees fan, 392 Fahrenheit. In a large oven proof dish or oven tray put a line of aluminium foil down the middle to create a little wall. Butternut on one side, beetroot on the other. You can use 2 different dishes, but why create more mess if you don't need to. Drizzle both vegetables with a good splash of olive oil, sprinkle of salt and pepper. Use the 2 crushed cloves of garlic still in their skin with the butternut and add the sage leaves. Sprinkle the thyme leaves of the beetroot and then toss well in the oil. Put these into the oven to roast for 45 minutes, tossing at the 20 minute mark to make sure they are cooking evenly and soaking up all the flavour of the herbs and garlic. Check to make sure after the 45 minutes that your vegetables are soft and set aside.
Boil the kettle to make your bouillon or heat your vegetable stock gently in a pot on the stove. In a large, solid based pot on a low heat melt a knob of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion, leek and celery and sweat for 10 minutes until translucent and soft. Add the garlic and soften. Adding the garlic at a later stage ensures that it doesn't burn and leave a bitter taste in your food.
Turn the heat up to medium and add the rice. The rice will now begin to lightly fry, so keep stirring it. After a minute it will look slightly translucent. Add the wine and keep stirring. I love this part because as the alcohol cooks away the kitchen smells heavenly. Once the wine has cooked away completely add the first ladle of your stock and reduce the heat to a steady simmer. The trick with risotto is to keep stirring. As each ladle of stock slowly cooks into the rice stir 3 or 4 times to stop the rice from cooking too quickly and to release the starch which is what helps make the risotto so creamy. Keep adding ladle by ladle of stock and stirring until all the stock has been absorbed. I find this takes about 25 - 30 minutes. taste the rice, it should be "al dente" - to the tooth as the Italians say. Soft but not mushy. It it hasn't reached this stage yet keep adding stock and stirring. If you run out of stock you can use hot water. At this stage add a good pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Don't over salt as the stock will have done a good job of adding seasoning.
Take the risotto off the heat. It should look creamy and delicious. Add the rest of your butter and 3/4 of the Parmesan, keeping a little bit back for people who may like to add a bit more when you serve and the Mascrpone. Stir in and allow to sit for 2 minutes with a lid on the pot, this combination of time and the cheese increases that deliciously, comforting, gooey creaminess that makes this dish prefect for the season. Add the butternut squash and stir into the rice, serve immediately. Sprinkling the chopped beetroot on top of the risotto as you take it to the table. This stops the beetroot from bleeding into the risotto and turning everything purple. it also means your colours are beautifully separate and you can celebrate all the beautiful ingredients in this luscious risotto.
Enjoy with a glass of the same wine you used in the cooking process. Never use bad wine to cook with. If you wouldn't drink it why put it in your food? Although we did then land up drinking a very delicious Sangiovese Superiore by Le Rocche Malatestiane, "i Diavoli" from Trina's Wines in Putney. I had enjoyed a few glasses of the Riesling during the cooking process. No surprises there!
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Good food is very often, even most often, simple food. - Anthony Bourdain