09 September 2008

Squash and Sage Risotto

Risotto ai Zucca e Salvia
Squash and Sage Risotto
Ooh, you like the 90's-style food pic? Best I could do under the circumstances.
Strangely enough there are quite a few declarations that instantly become untrue when you make them. I'm humble (No.). I'm feisty. I'm quiet. I lack self-awareness. I'm fierce (Ew.). How about this: I'm funny?

My friend Mira and I were having a heart-to-heart about something I've forgotten by now, and in the course of the conversation, I told her that I actually thought I was funny. She made this face of such disbelief: all that was missing was an impression of David Walliams' Sebastian character from Little Britain. "WOT." I actually became quite offended! It's funny now, when I think about it.

I faced up to the fact that I wasn't the most attractive guy in my group of friends (uh, just hunt for a picture if you like, it's out there), and neither was I the smartest. I don't know what made me think that being funny was my thing, especially now when I can name lots of friends who are funnier (I was going to add "in a traditional sense," but let's just leave it at that for now). Obviously I had let it get to my head when someone suggested I should do stand-up (I KNOW. It's silly. And difficult.) or when people ask me to say something witty at a moment's notice like a court jester.

It must be (even more of) the foolishness of youth, the way we flatten our personalities to fit certain stereotypes. It's probably only on television that these roles get filled out so perfectly: in your group of friends, there's the attractive one, the neurotic one, the funny one, the smart one, the secretary, and the slimy green ghost that manages to let all the evil ghosts loose (or the giant rat that teaches you martial arts). Or, in the case of other shows, the whiny one, the bossy one, the prissy one, and the slutty one. It's only after a period of self-reflection that you realize: there are no roles to fill. You can be everything you want to be, and other people won't always be there to fill in the gaps of your personality. Refuse to be defined in the context of your other friends: if you want to be funny, be funny. Don't let the fact that there are funnier people out there dim your light.

The Italian food fanatics among you (let's face it, even those who aren't) will notice something glaringly wrong with the picture. I know, I know, risotto isn't supposed to... mound like that. It would certainly enter the gallery of regrettable food if it didn't actually taste good. I know people don't really care if I have an excuse for such shoddy work, but it was for Father's Day lunch and I was juggling a lot of other dishes. Apparently if you leave wet risotto alone for more than a few minutes with the lid on, the rice will absorb the rest of the liquid and give you dry, overcooked risotto. Factor in the time you take to take a picture. Oy.

This is my entry to Michelle's Thursday Night Smackdown for October, with the theme Orange.

Squash and Sage Risotto from Cook With Jamie

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 1 dried red chili

  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 medium butternut squash, quartered and seeds discarded

  • extra virgin olive oil

  • 1.5L (6 cups) chicken or vegetable stock

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon butter

  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

  • 4-5 ribs of of celery, trimmed and finely chopped

  • 600g (3 cups) Arborio rice

  • 270mL (1 full wineglass) dry white wine

  • 1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese

  • 100g (7 tablespoons) butter

  • 1-2 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

  • a bunch of fresh sage, leaves picked

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). In a mortar, pound the cinnamon stick and chili with a good pinch of salt until you get a fine powder. Rub the squash with some olive oil and the spice mix. Place on a baking sheet and roast 45 minutes, or until soft. Set aside.

Meanhile, in a large skillet, add the 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over very low heat, then the onion and celery and cook very slowly for about 15 minutes without coloring. Once the vegetables are soft, add the rice and turn up the heat. Keep stirring the rice and after a minute it will appear translucent. Add the white wine and keep stirring. Once it has cooked into the rice, add the stock ladle by ladle, stirring and massaging the rice grains, until you've added about 2/3 of the stock (1 liter). Pour in a cup more of the stock and scoop the flesh out of the squash and add it to the risotto, stirring to break it in. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer until the stock has been absorbed. If the rice is still not yet cooked, add the remaining stock a ladleful at a time until it is. If it still isn't after using up all the stock, you can add hot water until the rice is soft but still al dente. Add salt and pepper to taste. Take off the heat and stir in the 100g butter, grated Parmesan, and mascarpone. Put the lid on and leave for a minute. Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a frying pan and fry the sage leaves for a minute, until crispy. Drain on paper towels. Serve the risotto with the crispy sage leaves and some more Parmesan cheese.

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