Sunday, December 27, 2009

Squash and Blue Cheese Risotto

Risotto is a rice dish originating in Northern Italy. The rices used to make risotto are characterized by high starch, low amylose and round medium grains – very different from the white rice most commonly consumed in the United States. The most common risotto rices used in Italy are Carnaroli or Vialone, though in American grocery stores Arborio is most more widely available. This is less desirable that the other varieties as it has less starch and is less firm.

To make risotto, first onions or shallots are sautéed in olive oil in a process called soffritto. Then the rice grains are added and coated in oil or butter in a process called tostatura. Hot stock is then added in small quantities while stirring the risotto. The agitation releases starch from the rice grains which forms a thick liquid. The final step is mantecatura when butter/oil and cheese are added and stirred vigorously to create a creamy sauce.

This risotto is adapted from a British recipe. Risottos tend to be mild but this one has strong flavors. The saffron provides fragrance, the squash creaminess, the
Gorgonzola some bite, and the pecans a crunchy texture. Many Americans are intimidated by risotto because rumors abound that it must be stirred for several hours. New York Times food critic Mark Bittman dispels this myth.

In Italy risotto is served as a primi piatti (first dish) instead of pasta; secondi piatti (second dishes) generally consist of meat or fish. In America risotto is often served as a main dish, though is sometimes served as an appetizer or side dish.

Serves 6-8 as a main dish

6 cups vegetable or chicken low-sodium stock (do not use bouillon cubes)
1 pinch of saffron
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 teaspoons crushed garlic
1 lb squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups Arborio or other risotto rice
1 cup dry white wine
8-12 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (or another mild to medium blue cheese)
1/2 lb toasted pecan halves
salt and pepper to taste
fresh Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. In a medium pot warm stock until simmering. Add saffron and stir well.
2. In a larger, heavy-bottomed pot on low heat sauté onion in olive oil until soft (about 10 minutes).
3. Add garlic and squash and cook until slightly soft.
4. Add the butter and rice. Stir until the grains are well coated.
5. Add wine and stir until absorbed (about 1 minute).
6. Add 1 cup of warm broth and stir until it has almost been absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time and stirring occasionally until absorbed. The process should take about 20 minutes but check the rice after 15 minutes. The grains should be
al dente and will continue cooking once removed from the heat.
7. Once the risotto is cooked, stir in the Gorgonzola. Fold in half of the pecans and use the other half to garnish the dish before serving. Add salt, pepper and finely grated Parmesan cheese to taste.

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