There’s a certain type of cooking that I excel at and it’s called “I just got back from a trip and what do I have in my fridge?” cooking. Usually, when I get back from somewhere, I’m too fatootsed to go food shopping, so I either (a) give in and order take-out from Pine and Crane, our favorite take-out spot; or (b) take a culinary swing with what whatever I have around. Last night after getting back from Santa Barbara, I went for option B.
What did I have around? Behold.
From left-to-right: a Delicata squash, a container of mushrooms (about two weeks old), and a red onion.
Could this, somehow, become dinner? It could! With the help of some Carnaroli rice (always keep risotto rice around, either Carnaroli or Arborio), some olive oil, and — the most shocking ingredient of all — some water.
The first step was to cut the Delicata squash into cubes and to brown it in olive oil. That’s really all there is to it: take the seeds out, cube it, brown it. Then clean the mushrooms, slice in half, and use the remaining oil to cook them.
Browning your vegetables before adding them to the risotto just gives everything more flavor. And flavor’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Then you can use that same pan to make the risotto. Add a chopped red onion to a little olive oil and away we go (season all these things with salt as they cook, but you knew that). Once the onion has wilted, add your rice. Add a splash of white wine then, when it evaporates, ladle in salted water that’s at a boil. (Literally, a pot of water with a little salt in it is all you need. Just don’t over-season the water.)
Cook at a simmer, stirring all the while, and keep ladling in the water as it evaporates. The whole process should take about twenty minutes. You can start adding your mushrooms and squash about halfway through.
To finish, add a big pile of grated Parmesan cheese, a tablespoon of butter, and — just because it’s here — a splash of Saba, Italian boiled grape must. If that sounds too fancy, you can use Balsamic.
I served it in my new Pinocchio bowl and felt that cozy back home feeling. And there was only one pan to clean.
Told you I excelled at this kind of cooking!
Delicata Squash and Mushroom Risotto with Parmesan and Saba
- Olive oil
- 1 Delicata squash, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes Be careful here as the squash is hard. Use a sharp knife.
- Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
- 1 8-ounce package button mushrooms, wiped clean, and halved
- 1/2 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (whatever you’re drinking)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Saba or good Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
Start by bringing a large pot of water to a boil and seasoning it with just enough salt to make it taste like a comforting broth. You don’t want it too salty here or your risotto will be too salty.
In a large metal skillet with deep sides, heat 1/4 cup olive oil until hot and then add the squash, plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook, without disturbing too much, until the squash is golden brown all over. Use a slotted spatula to lift into a bowl, hopefully leaving some of the oil behind.
Add a little more oil to the pan to coat the bottom, and now add all of the mushrooms, a little more salt and pepper. Cook until the mushrooms are a deep, dark brown, at least five minutes, shaking every so often. Remove to a separate bowl.
Let the pan cool for a moment, then add another splash of oil and your red onion, plus a sprinkling of salt. Cook the onion until transluscent, then add the rice. Toast the rice along with the onion until thoroughly coated with oil, then add the white wine. Lower the heat so it evaporates at a simmer, not a boil.
Now comes the risotto-making. Add enough seasoned water to cover the rice and control the heat so it’s cooking at an active simmer, but not a boil. Continue stirring and cooking like this, adding more water as necessary to keep the risotto covered, for about twenty minutes. About halfway through, start adding the mushrooms and squash to the risotto. Stir and cook, tasting about fifteen minutes in, until the rice is throughly cooked through and creamy and the liquid in the pan has mostly evaporated.
To finish, take the risotto off the heat and add the Parmesan and butter. Stir that in for a minute, ladle into bowls, and top with more Parmesan and a drizzle of either Saba or Balsamic. Serve right away.
Risotto with Roasted Winter Squash (New York Times)
Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash (Ina Garten, Food Network)