Risotto makes for awesome comfort food and, at the same time, a sophisticated dinner. Although traditionally prepared with Arborio rice, an Italian short-grain variety, you could easily swap out some of the Eight Common Grains, such as barley. With Arborio, it just takes a little extra time, and some degree of your attention, yet the process is very simple.
The basis of a good risotto involves starting out by cooking onions, adding in the grain, deglazing the pan with some wine, then slowly adding hot broth as the rice absorbs it. Some then top the dish with grated cheese, like Parmesan. The process results in a creamy consistency and rich flavor.
You can add other uncooked vegetables right after the onion and before adding the grain. And pre-cooked vegetables could be added in during the last few minutes of cooking and could save on overall. Recently, I made a risotto with beets, and guest chef Hilary Adams made one with butternut squash. Both were delicious, and all it takes is mastering the rather simple technique. A pot of either of these risottos could easily feed six as a main dish with cooked greens or a salad on the side.
Butternut Squash Risotto
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated or chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (optional)
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
nutmeg, grated, to taste
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
7 or 8 leaves fresh sage, slivered (optional)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Bring stock and water to a simmer in a saucepot, then reduce heat to low to keep hot. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat with the olive oil. When hot, add the onions and garlic and cook until softened – 2 to 3 minutes, then add in the squash and nutmeg. Add rice and toast for a minute or two until fragrant – this helps bring out the rice’s rich, nutty flavor. Next, pour in the wine, if using, and cook it off for 2 to 3 minutes. Start ladling in the stock in intervals – a couple of ladles at a time. Allow the liquid to be absorbed between each addition. The risotto will cook in about 30 minutes from the first addition of the stock. You can tell when the risotto is near done when it is no longer absorbing liquid. But taste and cook to a consistency to your liking. In the last minute of cooking time, stir in the sage and cheese. Adjust seasoning, add in butter if using, and serve.
Replace the squash with four medium, peeled, and chopped beets. Omit the nutmeg and sage.