Celebrate Good Food, C’mon!

For me, food is the answer to all of life’s ups and downs: break ups, hangovers, birthdays, new jobs. There is no better way to feel better or to celebrate than through food. So upon starting my new job at Benchmarc Restaurants, you can bet I toasted myself with a delicious, gourmet meal.

On the eve before my new adventure, I was craving something elegant yet hearty. With some butternut squash in the fridge and arborio rice in my pantry, I decided that a butternut squash risotto would be the perfect self-celebratory dinner. After making a quick trip down to Westside Market to pick up a few other ingredients – vegetable stock, sage, and of course, white wine (for cooking and consuming) – I was ready to go.

This wasn’t the first time I attempted butternut squash risotto. Unfortunately my first try last year at Christmas was a bit of a flop. First, the squash was already spoiled by the time I went to use it, so I was forced to improvise. Being my first time ever making risotto, I was definitely not experienced enough to do so. What I ended up with was a grayish, purple risotto (from red wine) and grains that were still quite starchy and chewy. My first risotto was as sad as a lump of coal on Christmas morning. But thankfully, I lived and I learned…

And this second attempt at butternut squash risotto certainly was something to celebrate! So creamy and hearty, with a touch of sweetness from the squash and vanilla bean, and a lovely earthiness from the sage. The dish was exactly what I had been craving and was luxurious enough to feel like I was “treating” myself even while I ate in my sweatpants and slippers.

Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto (adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)

serves 4-6

Ingredients:

4 cups vegetable stock

1 vanilla bean

3 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (I buy the pre-cut squash from Trader Joe’s)

2 tbs butter, plus 1 tbs

1 onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp salt

8-10 sage leaves, roughly chopped

1. In a medium saucepan, heat stock over medium-high heat. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and pod to the pot.

2. When the broth comes to a simmer, add the squash and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, move the squash to a side dish. Cover the broth and keep warm over low heat.

3.  In a large, heavy saucepan melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until it has almost evaporated, about 3 minutes.

4. Add 1/2 cup of the hot broth to the rice and stir until almost completely absorbed, about  2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time, stirring constantly and allowing the liquid to be absorbed in between additions. The rice should be creamy and tender to the bite when finished cooking. (If you’re starting to run low on the broth and the rice is still too firm, just heat up more broth or water until the rice is cooked).

5. When the rice is cooked, remove from the heat and discard the vanilla bean pod. Gently stir in the Parmesan cheese, sage, salt and remaining tablespoon of butter. Serve immediately.

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