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Labor of love: Rice dish worth the extra effort

Squash Risotto

In the process of putting together this risotto one evening for supper, I found out quite quickly that it required two things from the cook -- brute strength and patience -- both attributes for which I am not known.

The brute strength part came in cutting up the squash. Hubby Bryan brought home quite a large butternut squash, and it took a bit of wrangling to turn it into small cubes.

First, using a big butcher knife, I cut off the ends and then chopped it completely in half at the neck so I would have two more manageable size pieces. Then, after a few unsuccessful tries with an industrial vegetable peeler, I used a sharp paring knife to remove the outer rind, placing the cut edge on the cutting board for stability and then removing sections of the rind by cutting downward. After removing the seeds with a large spoon, it was back to the butcher knife to cut slices and then cubes.

Whew! What a lot of hard work.

But once all the muscling of the squash was concluded, I had plenty of time to rest. Patience is indeed a virtue in the process of making risotto.

Risotto is an Italian dish of Arborio rice cooked in broth to a creamy consistency. To get that creamy consistency, the cook must add broth in installments, waiting for the rice to absorb the broth before adding more and stirring constantly throughout the process.

It's not a fast process, and the cook dare not step too far away from the pot. But the resulting dish -- which can be served either as a side or a main course -- is worth all the attention. It's creamy and satisfying, and with the flavor of the squash added, a good seasonal option for supper. I served it with a green salad on the side.

Notes from the kitchen:

* Despite the butchering difficulties, butternut squash was a good choice for this recipe, but any winter squash will work. The large squash I used yielded more than enough for the risotto, so I cubed up the rest, coated it with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and some seasoning and roasted it on a sheet pan in a 375 degree oven for about half an hour.

* After spending time tending your risotto, don't skimp on the final steps. Use freshly grated Parmesan cheese, not the kind in the can.

* Make sure you have the correct variety of rice. Risotto requires a high-starch, round, medium- or short-grain rice. Arborio is the most common variety, but others include Carnaroli, Baldo, Roma and Maratelli.

* The bacon is optional, but I liked the flavor combination with the earthiness of the squash. I happened to have some precooked bacon on hand, but you could cook up diced bacon in the pot before sautéing the onion and garlic.

Squash Risotto

8 cups chicken broth or stock

1 tablespoon olive oil

5 tablespoons cold butter, use divided

½ cup finely chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups butternut squash, cut into ½-inch cubes

2 cups Arborio rice

¾ cup white wine

½ cup cooked diced bacon

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon dried sage

Salt and pepper to taste

On a side burner, heat the broth in a saucepan over low heat; keep warm.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. Add onion, garlic and squash; sauté about 8 minutes, stirring constantly, until vegetables are soft but not browned.

Add rice, coating it with the butter/oil and seasonings and continue to stir until rice is toasted, about 5 minutes. Add wine and stir until it evaporates.

Stirring continuously, add warm stock using a ladle, about 1 cup at a time, waiting until liquid is absorbed before adding more. In about 30 minutes, the rice will begin to release its starch and thicken. Continue to add stock until most of it is gone and the rice is tender. Season with sage, salt and pepper.

Remove from heat and let set for 2 minutes. Beat in the diced bacon, 3 tablespoons of cold butter, cut into cubes, and Parmesan cheese, reserving a bit of the cheese and bacon to sprinkle on top.

Serve immediately.

Makes 4 hearty main dish servings; eight side dish servings.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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