Friday, December 10, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

I teach monthly cooking classes for clients at work. Many are kitchen neophytes so my lessons tend to cover the basics and include straightforward recipes that require minimal effort. Last week, in a holiday-themed class, we discussed how to handle a butternut squash (peeling, cutting, cleaning and roasting) and since I had a demo squash left over, I was determined to make dinner out of it.

I wanted a dish where the squash would remain king, and then I remembered Ina Garten's Saffron Butternut Squash Risotto (yet another episode I saw at the gym while planning dinner on the treadmill). In all honestly, I'm not what you would consider a winter squash aficionado. I cook it and I eat it but it doesn't have a spot on my favorite foods list... at least not until it's paired with gnocchi, ravioli or a creamy risotto.
This particular risotto managed to knock my socks off. It balances the sweet, savory and creamy components perfectly, and with seared scallops on top, it may actually qualify as one of my favorite meals.

Butternut Squash Risotto
While this risotto is a meal in itself, I highly recommend topping each serving with a few seared scallops. The two flavors and textures are a match made in heaven. Adapted from an Ina Garten recipe.

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces pancetta, finely diced
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large shallot, minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
4-6 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Peel the squash, halve lengthwise, remove the seeds with a spoon and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes (about 6 cups). Place the diced squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil (about 2 tablespoons), a few good pinches of kosher salt and some black pepper. Toss well and spread in a single layer. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, tossing once, until the squash is very tender. Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken broth in a small saucepan. Cover and keep hot over low heat.

In a large pot, heat the pancetta over medium-low heat for about 8 minutes or until most of the fat has rendered and the pancetta is beginning to crisp. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the shallots; cook for 5 more minutes or until the shallots are translucent. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is absorbed, about 4 minutes. Add two ladles of stock, the saffron, 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and a few good grinds of black pepper. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the broth is absorbed, about 6 minutes. Continue adding stock, two ladles at a time, stirring frequently, waiting each time for the liquid to be absorbed before adding more. Continue this process until the rice is cooked through but still a touch al dente, about 30 minutes. Add the butternut squash, Parmesan and a splash more stock, if needed. Toss in the remaining tablespoon of butter, stir well and taste for seasoning. Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Caraway Cabbage with Pasta

If you’re looking for a quick and delicious meal that also happens to be pretty darn healthy, have I got something for you.

This is an Eastern European-style dish that my mom made pretty frequently when we were growing up. I used to love standing at the stove taking in the smell of onions sautéing in butter. And then, along with the shredded cabbage, she’d add the secret ingredient: caraway seeds. Don't even think about making this dish without them. It would be like rye bread without its signature flavor - preposterous! Besides, if my mom found a way to get kids to happily devour cabbage, I wouldn’t mess with a good thing.

From start to finish this only takes about 15 minutes. I’m not normally a pusher of 20 minute meals – that niche has been filled to capacity – but it’s nice to have a few quick dishes in your arsenal for busy nights.

I like to eat my Caraway Cabbage with Pasta on its own but it also tastes fabulous topped with Parmesan cheese or a dollop of sour cream. And, if you need meat or are serving this as a main course, a little crispy pancetta or bacon would push this into the ridiculous category (just cook 4 ounces of diced bacon/pancetta in a skillet over medium heat until crisp; remove, continue with the recipe as written and then add it back in at the end along with the pasta).

I can’t believe it took me this long to make such a beloved childhood dish. Glad it’s back. 

Caraway Cabbage with Pasta
A simple and very satisfying peasant dish. It easily stands on its own but would accompany a braised brisket or pan seared pork chop beautifully. Leftovers taste great with a fried egg on top.

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2-3 as a main course

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 small head green cabbage, thinly shredded (5-6 cups total)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
8 ounces dry pasta (my mom always used bowtie but any shape will do)

Set a large pot of salted water on to boil.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the shredded cabbage, a few good pinches of salt, freshly ground black pepper and the caraway seeds. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender, 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the salted water until al dente; drain. When the cabbage is tender, add the cooked pasta and toss well. Taste for salt and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve and watch it disappear.