Friday, April 18, 2008

What to do on the hottest day of the year

I love Fridays! Typically Friday is the start of three days of only having to work one job a day for me. Sometimes I even have an entire day off from both jobs on Saturday or Sunday which is always quite a treat. At the FDG office more often than not on Fridays we take off from work an hour early to get a head start on our weekends. This past Friday was the start of a heat wave here in San Diego so to celebrate the suddenly summery weather we closed up the office at 3:30pm. So what did I do with my free time on this 90+ degree day? I went home to cook of course!

I spent 3 ½ hours baking banana nut muffins for Saturdays breakfast, loaves of French bread to take along on a wine tasting adventure and picnic on Saturday afternoon and a delicious Friday night dinner of roasted veggie risotto. Sure, keeping the oven at 400 degrees for hours on end and then sautéing and simmering items on the stove for an hour might not have been the best method to keep the house and the people in it at a comfortable temperature on such a hot day but the deliciousness of the meal and breads made it well worth dealing with the heat.

The risotto was amazing! I actually did not start eating risotto until fairly recently. If you can’t eat gluten it’s a great substitute for pasta when you are craving creamy carbohydrates. I always thought that to make it you would have to add gobs of butter and thick cream to get it to the rich and thick consistency risotto is known for. Not true! The most common rice used for risotto is Arborio which is a rounded, white grain rice. Because Arborio has such high starch content when it is slowly cooked in broth it releases this starch from the grain. So it is the rice itself that creates the creamy, buttery like consistency of the dish. You will notice in the recipe that only a little bit of olive oil is added in the beginning and then just a dab of butter at the very end, if you want to leave out the butter to lower the fat content you could. Personally, I think the butter really compliments this dish so I always add about a tablespoon of whipped earth balance to the pot at the end which is a good compromise. So without further delay here is the delicious and nutritious roasted veggie risotto recipe.

Roasted Veggie Risotto

Ingredients for the squash

1 medium size butternut or acorn squash (peeled and cubed)
1 teaspoon minced fresh or dried sage
1 teaspoon powdered sage
a dash or two of cinnamon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
olive oil

Ingredients for the risotto

1 tablespoon olive oil
4-5 cups warm vegetable broth
¼ c minced onion
2 cloves of garlic (crushed or minced)
½ cup warmed dry white wine
1 cup arborio rice
1 tablespoon butter (I like whipped Earth Balance)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Ingredients for the veggie sauté

Approximately 3 cups sliced mushrooms (you can use whatever mushrooms you love most, personally I like the pre sliced crimini from Trader Joes because they save time and are delicious!)

4 or 5 generous handfuls of fresh spinach

1 or 2 cloves of garlic (crushed or minced)

Salt, pepper, cinnamon and powdered sage to taste

Preparing the squash

Poke the squash several times with a fork and then microwave for a couple of minutes to soften it and make it easier to cut. Using a big knife cut the squash in half and remove the guts. Peel and then cut the squash into little cubes that are around ½ an inch or inch square in size. Put the squash in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with sage, cinnamon, salt and pepper and use your hands to make sure all the little squashy squares are coated with oil and spice. Pop this into a 400 degree oven and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Once the squash is done remove it from the oven and set aside.

Preparing the Risotto

Warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sized pot over medium heat, add to that your onion and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent. Add to this your rice and stir constantly for a couple of minutes until the rice is fully coated with the oil. Now you can add the warmed white wine, turn your heat down a smidge to medium and stir constantly until the wine is almost absorbed. Now you are ready for the broth. Add one cup at a time the warm vegetable broth, stir this frequently and once the broth is nearly absorbed add another cup of warm broth. We warm the wine and broth because of the sensitive nature of the rice, to add a cold liquid at any point tinkers with the delicate cooking process of the arborio rice and could result in a crunchy or hard risotto. Depending on your stove you might have to turn up or down the heat a bit, you want it to be simmering but not boiling so the rice is not burned. Repeat this process of adding warm broth a cup at a time until the rice is tender but slightly al dente. Typically this takes about 6 or 7 cups of broth over a 20 minute time period. Now you can add your parmesan cheese and butter (if you like!), stir until combined and then turn off the heat.

Preparing the veggies

While your risotto is cooking you can also be prepping the veggies. In a pan heat a tablespoon of butter or olive oil over medium heat, add to this your crushed garlic letting the garlic infuse the oil for a minute or two. Add to this your sliced mushrooms of choice and season them with a little salt and pepper, sautéing until they soften and brown up a bit. Once the mushrooms are ready add to the pan your roasted squash and spinach. If you like you can add a little more powdered sage to this. Lower the heat, cover the pan with a lid and let cook about 4 or 5 minutes or until the spinach has wilted.

To serve place a generous portion of the risotto in a bowl and top with a heaping scoop of veggies. If you like (and I think you might!) you can add another sprinkling of parmesan cheese atop the veggies, pour yourself a glass of the same white wine you used in the risotto and enjoy!

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