Thursday, 20 May 2010

Butternut squash risotto

As a child growing up in Greece, I was always an "oddity of nature". With the mediterranean having an amazing wealth of fresh and wonderful vegetables, and me being a veggie-hater since birth, I spent quite a few years with my parents chasing me around the house with a carrot (to feed it to me by force, obviously!), trying to force orange juice (with the "bits") down my throat (orange juice without bits I have no problems with), or throwing the pears they tried to force-feed me out of the balcony (one landed on a car underneath once, and the next morning I was passing by and saw it had made a dent on its roof - big oups, from then on I learnt to look at where I was throwing them) and the lentils down the kitchen drain.

Where am I going with this you will wonder...Well, against all odds (and nature), ever since I moved to the UK, a pronouncedly worse place for fresh vegetables (or at least that's what most Greeks will claim) my horizons have expanded. After spending a while being miffed at the fact that the only vegetable I had started eating (mushrooms) was not actually a vegetable (what do you mean it's a "fungus"? It's the same bloody thing! If it's not meat or fish, must be vegetable!) I discovered lots of other things that in Greece I would have just not touched. English strawberries being one (only between June-August, I refuse to touch the hormonal huge ones imported from other lands in the middle of winter) and butternut squash another. Now the funniest thing is that I can not do without butternut squash, and since it's in season in Britain for only a couple of winter months, I have to buy imported to feed my addiction, and most of the times I end up buying squash from...yeap, you guessed right...Greece.

Since cooking savoury recipes with pumpkin or squash is not traditionally popular in Greece (they're mostly used for desserts) it's now becoming more common, and I thought it would be quite fitting to have my first savoury recipe in this blog made with A. a vegetable, B. a vegetable that comes from Greece, and C. a vegetable that comes from Greece but Greeks wouldn't commonly use in this way. I also love risotto, and although I usually make it by chopping the squash into small chunks and popping them in the oven for 30 min (with some dried ground sage leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper), then mixing them into the rice after it's cooked, I came across this interesting recipe in the delicious magazine, and decided to give it a try, since the idea of making the squash into a soup and using that in place of stock seemed very original (and tasty!). For me it was equally great as my usual risotto recipe, but my partner kept drooling and calling it loooooooovely every time I asked "how is it?".

Butternut squash risotto
Source: delicious magazine (May 2010)

Serves 4-6

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped (I used 1 tsp of onion powder)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I used 1 tsp of garlic powder)
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2cm cubes
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (I used chicken stock)
  • 350g risotto rice (I used arborio)
  • 200ml dry white wine
  • 4 tbsp grated Parmesan (I buy the best parmesan in London from Elliott of the Ham and Cheese Co. stand at the Borough market*, it's even better than many I've tried in Italy)
  • Extra parmesan to serve (If you're like me, count another half a block in shavings, I like my parmiggiano!)
  • 20g butter
  • 1 tbsp hazelnut or walnut oil

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large non-stick saucepan and gently fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the squash and stock to the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until soft. Whizz in a blender until smooth to make a soup, then season.

Heat a heavy-based saucepan with the remaining olive oil and add the rice. Fry for 2 minutes over a medium heat, stirring until well coated with the oil. Add the wine and simmer until absorbed by the rice.

Gradually add the pumpkin soup to the pan, a ladleful at a time, stirring between each addition to allow the liquid to be completely absorbed. Stir in the Parmesan and butter, and drizzle with the hazelnut or walnut oil. Sprinkle with some shaved Parmesan and serve immediately.

*Note: As of 2011, they have moved to the Maltby Street market, a cosy small market under the London Bridge arches.


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