Add butternut squash for a sweeter risotto

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When I make risotto, I usually add asparagus and a couple drops of white truffle oil and call it a day. But last week I wanted to play around and see what I could come up with. The result was a butternut squash risotto that I will definitely make again.

I like the natural sweetness of butternut squash, so I thought it would be a good starting point to choose a different vegetable to add. That gave me direction in choosing the rest of the seasonings for the risotto, which ended up being slightly sweet, really creamy, and full of flavor.

Beware if you’re cooking for one, because this makes a large amount of risotto. If you just want enough for a few servings for yourself, I recommend cutting the recipe in half.

Ingredients
1 large butternut squash
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (I used riesling)
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons butter, cut into smaller cubes
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of white pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Peel the butternut squash and remove the seeds. Place the butternut squash, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Rub with cooking oil or spray with cooking spray. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until squash is tender.

Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add a splash of cooking oil, the onion, and the garlic. Once onions are translucent, add rice and stir until slightly browned. Turn heat to medium-high and add riesling. Simmer until wine is absorbed. Stir. Add 2 cups of the chicken broth and simmer until absorbed. Add the remaining two cups and simmer until absorbed. Add cream and stir until just combined. Rice should be tender. Turn off heat. Add butter and seasoning ingredients. Cut squash into small cubes and stir into risotto. Serve.

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Beautiful black rice salad is all about texture

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I was originally going to post a soup recipe as my first entry of 2014, but something better came along. I tried a new recipe Wednesday and am still enjoying the leftovers.

I don’t often stray from more typical grains such as white or brown rice and cous cous, but when a friend moved away last year, she left behind a bag of black rice which I knew I needed to figure out how to use.

That bag of rice sat in my cupboard for about six months, up until this month’s edition of Bon Appétit arrived. In this month’s issue, some of the magazine’s staff provided recipes for dishes they cook at home. Among them was this recipe for Black and Wild Rice Salad with Roasted Squash. The accompanying photo was stunning and it included butternut squash, which I love, but most importantly it used black rice.

I wasn’t sure how much I would like this, but I really enjoyed it. The sweetness of the squash and the tartness of the red wine vinegar added delicious layers of flavor. It was even better the next day and, while it can be eaten cold, I prefer it hot.

I omitted the pomegranate seeds in the recipe because the seeds drive me crazy, though I imagine the flavor of the arils would have complemented the rest of the flavors in the dish. I also substituted sliced almonds for the pistachios, since I didn’t have pistachios; and I used curly parsley and carrot greens instead of the microgreens. The curly parsley was a bit harsh, but the carrot greens worked well.

One of my favorite things about it was the texture. The sticky rice and soft squash are balanced by crunchy nuts and rough greens. This must be the amuse-gueule, or “amusement for the mouth,” that celebrity chef Robert Irvine talked about when I interviewed him last year.

It’s not often that you find such an abundance of color, texture and flavor in one meal, but you definitely do in this rice salad. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups black rice
1/2 cup wild rice
Kosher salt
1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into pieces
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup microgreens or sprouts
1/2 cup roasted pistachios, chopped

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cook black rice and wild rice in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, 35-40 minutes; drain and rinse, shaking off as much water as possible. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet and let cool.

Meanwhile, toss squash with 1/4 cup oil on another baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing once, until golden brown and tender, 20-25 minutes; let cool.

Whisk vinegar, honey, and remaining 1/4 cup oil in a large bowl. Add black rice and wild rice, squash, scallions, pomegranate seeds, microgreens, and pistachios; season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Sweet squash soup for cold nights

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Lake Tahoe got a light dusting of snow at lake level last week. Night temperatures are dipping into the high 20s and I’m thinking about turning my heater on for the first time since May.

My thoughts have turned to warm meals that are easy to put together. I made this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup to keep me warm last week. I cut the recipe in half — but used the same amount of apple, onion and cream — because I only had one squash. It still made enough soup for four meals.

I’ve used Granny Smith apples in soups before, and they lend a certain tartness to them. This time I used a Fuji apple because it’s all I had. I liked the mellower flavor and feel that a Granny Smith apple would have made the soup more tart than I wanted it to be. The soup is sweeter and thicker than many other kinds of soup, but I liked that.

If you roast the squash ahead of time, this soup can be made quickly on a weeknight, when most people tend to look for meals that are easy to make after a day of work. I enjoyed it with a slice of sourdough bread and a spoonful of sour cream.

Ingredients
1 medium butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium Granny Smith or Fuji apple
1/2 medium yellow onion
1 1/2 teaspoons rubbed sage or 4 fresh sage leaves
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Dash of black pepper
1/3 cup heavy cream
Sour cream

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the squash pieces cut-side up on the baking sheet. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and brush all of it over the tops and insides of the squash halves (alternatively, you can rub it on evenly with your fingers). Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast until knife tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, peel, core, and dice the apple. Dice the onion. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the apple, onion and sage, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

When the squash is ready, set the baking sheet on a wire rack until the squash is cool enough to handle. Using a large spoon, scoop the flesh into the saucepan with the sautéed apples and onions; discard the skins.

Add the broth, water, and measured salt and pepper, stir to combine, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces of squash, until the flavors meld, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream.

Using an immersion blender or regular blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth. If using a regular blender, remove the small cap from the lid (the pour lid) and covering the space with a kitchen towel (this allows steam to escape and prevents the lid from popping off). Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve garnished with the sour cream, if using.