The first time I ever had risotto I was 24 years old visiting Chicago with a family friend, having dinner with her over-bearing nephew that lived in town. We went to a fabulous Italian restaurant and I saw risotto on the menu. I said, “is risotto pasta”? To which he replied, with a petulant screech, “NO! IT IS RICE!” Wow! Suffice it to say I felt like country come to town.
I’m glad he told me, but I wish he had taken time to educate me in a more kind manner instead of coming across like a culinary elitist. As Dale Carnegie would certainly agree, that’s not a good way to win friends. It’s sad to say every time I have a wonderful risotto dish I think of him. Fortunately I’ve leaned to laugh at the moment!
Anyone would understand why you’d think it is pasta. When you cook risotto the rice takes on a pasta-like characteristic. It swells slowly as it cooks and the grain breaks down so it has the consistency of pasta not rice. It’s oh, so yummy!
Rarely have I ever been home sick, but on a trip to Italy long before I married I had spent two cold and rainy weeks in Italy. On the final night of the trip, longing for home, I sampled a risotto that tasted just like Southern rice and gravy my grandmother used to make. I was hooked as the warm comfort food reminded me of hearth and home.
Few foods can I say are life changing but this recipe might just be one. My wife and I love risotto, the Italian comfort food that can be used as a base for so many proteins and flavors. My favorite is this recipe that I gave a southern twist by changing the traditional pancetta to bacon and red pepper.
3 cups diced butternut squash
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup Chardonnay Wine (or substitute more stock, it will have less nuance)
4 cups salted vegetable stock
3 strips bacon
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flake
1 1/2 cups Arborio Rice
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and Pepper to taste
Chop about 2 cups of butternut squash. Toss in a tablespoon of olive oil with a scant amount of salt and a few cranks of pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for about 35-40 minutes.
In a large, high-rimmed sauté pan heat one tablespoon of butter with three strips of chopped bacon on medium high heat.
Add 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flake.
Simultaneously heat four cups of vegetable stock (I use Swanson) in a sauce pan. When the bacon begins to render add one chopped onion. Once the onion is translucent add two to three cloves of chopped garlic and cook for one minute.
Then, add 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice. Toss the rice in the butter and onions until fully coated.
Then, add about half a cup of Chardonnay wine. (You can always substitute the wine for more stock but it won’t taste exactly the same).
Reduce heat to medium and cook the wine until the rice begins to dry. Then, in 1/2 cup batches ladle the stock into the rice, allowing the stock to cook out of the rice until almost dry between each half cup.
Take this slow allowing the rice to swell and breakdown. Cook the rice slowly, carefully stirring the rice to keep it from burning.
Once all of the stock is gone, stir in 1 cup of grated Parmesan (I grate mine in the food processor) and add the butternut squash. Taste and adjust seasoning. Enjoy!