Harvest + Honey

An open-ended love letter, culinarily inspired.


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Brown Sugar, Cinnamon + Sorghum Hand Pies

Brown Sugar, Cinnamon and Sorghum Hand Pies Homemade Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Pop TartsHomemade Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Pop TartsHand pies4IMG_0732
Hand pies2Homemade Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Pop Tarts

My grandfather was an engineer. He was a mechanical engineer to be exact. In fact, he actually invented the automatic shut-off valve on gas pumps, so the next time you’re pumping your gas, feel free to give him a little shout out (his name was Columbus). As someone who does not possess an aptitude for engineering, I very much respect anyone whose brain actually does allow them to engineer things of the mechanical sort, like my grandfather. I got a steam cleaner as an early Christmas present last week (you know you’re getting old when … ) and I literally did a little jig after I successfully assembled the thing. So no, an engineer I am not. Anyway, I was watching TV the other day with my husband, and we were transfixed by a show that basically just shows you how random things are made. This particular episode on this particular day happened to be about the making of toaster pastries. Toaster pastries! Of all things. I cross my heart and hope to die that I really had planned on making homemade toaster pastries this week as a test for my blog, so clearly this was a sign. I was so amused by this coincidence that I started snapping photos of the TV screen to capture the action. My husband, meanwhile, was probably thinking to himself, “Wow. She just keeps getting weirder and weirder.”

As I was snapping said photos, I couldn’t help but think that there was something sort of sad about the flat, sad looking little pastries that rolled very un-merrily along the massive conveyor belts in the factory. “Thwump. Thwump. Thwump.” They just fell lifelessly into piles of thousands, vats of pink frosting being dumped over them as they were packaged up and shipped off to their various grocery store destinations. It was sort of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory without all of the magic. Which, as you can imagine, really just leaves not much more than a scary, almost disturbing scene.

>> shudders <<

I can do better than that, I thought to myself, and with rolling pin in hand, I set out to make a homemade, small batch version of these beloved toaster pastries. I even decided to re-name mine “hand pies” because, well, that’s what they are and it’s just the hip thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.

These hand pies are everything I’d hoped they’d be, and dare I say it, they might even be a little bit more. I actually wasn’t quite as confident in my abilities to pull these off as I may have let on a moment ago. But nevertheless, I tried, I frosted and I conquered. While I absolutely do appreciate the brilliant innovation that has clearly gone into the toaster pastry mechanization process, it is that “processed” nature of them that had me turning in the other direction, pointed directly toward my very own kitchen where I could decide exactly how I wanted them to turn out, what size I wanted them to be, and just how much of that delicious glaze I wanted to dump all over them. In fact, I actually ate mine with extra glaze on the side … for dunking. You can’t get that out of any box, I’m quite certain.

I never had the privilege of meeting my grandfather, but I have a feeling he would respect my momentary shunning of modern day engineering in favor of doing things the old fashioned way. He was, in fact, a real live inventor who spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make things the best way possible. I just bet that the mechanically inspired inventor in him would appreciate the culinarily inspired inventor in me, always trying to discover something new, something better, and something just a little bit different. His name was Columbus, after all.

 

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P.S. The iconic I Love Lucy assembly line episode even aired on the very same day as the toaster pastry episode. Double coincidence! These babies were written in the stars …

 

RECIPE

For the Pastry:

8 ounces cold butter, cubed (use shortening for vegan)

10 ounces all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

6 ounces corn syrup

 

For the Brown Sugar, Cinnamon + Sorghum Filling:

¾ cup plain bread crumbs

2 tablespoons salted butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar

4 teaspoons cinnamon

2 1/2 ounces sorghum (if you can’t find this, just sub in corn syrup, molasses, honey, or agave nectar – all should work)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

 

For the Cinnamon Glaze:

2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

2 – 2.5 tablespoons corn syrup

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

Cinnamon (to taste)

 

For the pastry: Place the flour, salt, and butter into a food processor. Add the corn syrup and pulse until it comes together in a smooth ball. Dust your hands with some flour, scoop out the dough, and flatten it into a square(ish) shape, wrap it in plastic, and chill for half an hour.

For the filling: 
Place the breadcrumbs and melted butter in a bowl. Toss to coat. Add the remaining filling ingredients and mash together to make a paste (a fork works great here).

For the pies: Preheat your oven to 350° F. Place the chilled dough onto a work surface that has been liberally dusted with flour. Roll out the pastry to an even thickness of about 1/4” (much thicker and you’ll get really dense pies, which are tougher to eat). A good tip here is to keep the pastry as cold as you possibly can. I actually worked in smaller batches, and kept what I wasn’t using in the fridge until I needed it. It is MUCH easier to work with this buttery pastry when it is good and cold.

You might want to lift and scoot the dough occasionally to ensure it hasn’t stuck. 
Cut the pastry into 3-inch wide strips. Cut each strip lengthwise at 4-inch intervals (or, you could roll them to whatever size you like. I made huge pies!). Gather up any remaining scraps, roll, and cut likewise until you’ve used up all of the pastry.

Place about a tablespoon of the filling into the center of half of the pieces, and use your fingers to push and mold it into a rectangular shape, leaving about 1/4″ margin all around the edges.

Cover each filled pie with a plain dough piece. Use your fingers to smooth the dough and to gently press out any air pockets.
 gently seal the dough along all four sides of each tart. Seal the edges with either your fingers or with a fork. Once sealed, carefully prick the surface of each pie with a fork.
 Use a spatula to transfer the pies to your baking sheet(s). Bake for about 16 – 18 minutes, until barely beginning to show signs of color. Be careful not to over bake! The pastry will get tough and lose its tenderness. Better to err on the side of under-baking at first. Cool thoroughly.

To finish the pies: Combine all of the glaze ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until a smooth paste forms. If you need to add a tiny splash of water to get things moving, that’s fine. Just don’t add too much liquid at once. You might need to add more powdered sugar and/or corn syrup to achieve the right consistency. You are looking for a very thick yet spreadable paste (not a runny glaze). Start by adding only 1 tablespoon of corn syrup at first, and go from there.

Spoon about 2 teaspoons (give or take) of glaze onto each pie and gently work to spread it evenly over the tops, leaving borders of your size preference (or none at all).

To store: Store in an airtight container, about two weeks at room temperature.

 


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Pear + Cardamom Dark and Stormies

Pear and Cardamom Dark and StormiesPear and Cardamom Dark and StormiesPear and Cardamom Dark and StormiesPear and Cardamom Dark and StormiesPear and Cardamom Dark and StormiesPear and Cardamom Dark and StormiesPear and Cardamom Dark and Stormies

It was a dark and stormy night …

Have you ever stopped and wondered about the origins of this phrase? I’m guessing not. I hadn’t really either until I started playing around with my Dark & Stormy recipe. I kept muttering it to myself as I sipped and sampled various iterations of this drink, chuckling at how such immense drama can sit inside such a small phrase. Dun Dun Dunnnnn …

I realized that I couldn’t pinpoint the phrase at all, not having a clue if it was from a classic movie, book, poem, or what. So, without further ado (at the time, I guess there was nothing I had to further do), I took it upon myself to look into it. Turns out, this oft parodied phrase was written by English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton as part of the opening sequence of the 1830 novel, Paul Clifford. Ah ha! That’s why I couldn’t pinpoint it – I’ve never heard of, let alone read the book. Apparently, the phrase itself is widely considered to be a classic representation of “the archetypal example of a florid, melodramatic style of fiction writing,” which is also known as purple prose. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Here’s the original opening sentence of Paul Clifford:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Wow. Kind of makes you want to keep reading now, doesn’t it? Does me. I’ve been searching for a new book to read, and perhaps I’ll have to substitute Gone Girl for Bulwer-Lytton’s work instead. I’m intrigued, I’ll admit.

As for the delightfully spicy beverage that is actually the subject of this post, I’m hoping you’ll find it to be equally as intriguing, but maybe in a less foreboding way. The Dark and Stormy is a classic Caribbean cocktail that pairs Jamaican style ginger beer with spiced rum and a squeeze of lime. Nothing not to like there really, but I have so much fun playing around with flavors that I couldn’t help myself. After a recent trip to Chef Jose Andres’ DC restaurant, Zaytinya, during which I tasted their cardamom scented Dark and Stormy, I was inspired to create my own. Given that pears are in season right now I thought hey, why not throw them in the mix as well and see how she fares?

I goofed at first and tried flavoring the cocktail with a pear-cardamom simple syrup, but it made the drink much too sweet. There is ginger beer in there already, after all. So, I found the best way to infuse the pear and cardamom into the drink is to use a simple pear and cardamom puree’ and add that to the classic Dark and Stormy ingredients. Given the breezy, bright, and tropical nature of this drink, I think it might actually be a perfect thing to serve on a dark and stormy Fall night. No matter how torrential the downpour, violent the gusts, or fierce the rattling of the storm may be, I’ll wager a guess that it is nothing that a little spiced rum and lime can’t perk right up …

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RECIPE

Makes 1 drink

 

2 ounces of dark rum (or, you know, more)

2 ounces pear + cardamom puree (recipe follows)

4 ounces of ginger beer

Squeeze of lime

 

Add the rum and puree to a shaker (or glass), and shake (or stir) to combine. Add some ice cubes to a glass and top with the rum/puree mixture. Top with the ginger beer and a squeeze of lime. Serve right away.

 

Pear + Cardamom Puree

2 ripe pears, peeled and seeded (any variety and in a pinch, a drained can of whole pears actually works beautifully)

1/2 – 1 teaspoon ground cardamom (the amount you use can be to taste here; I like mine with extra cardamom flavor, so I go a little heavy)

 

Place the peeled pears into a food processor or blender and process until you get a very smooth puree. Transfer to a bowl or storage container, add the cardamom and stir to evenly incorporate. Store in the fridge for up to a week.

 


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Snowflake Rolls

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“The waiting is the hardest part …” Tom Petty

 


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A Self-Dressing Salad of Roasted Fennel, Oranges + Red Onion

Self-dressing salad of fennel, oranges, and red onionSelf-dressing salad of fennel, oranges, and red onion

This salad reminds me of Willie Nelson.

As bizarre as I’m sure that sounds, it will make more sense (hopefully) when I add a beginning and a middle to this salad’s story. It’s probably never a good idea to lead off with the last part of a story, now that I think about it. So your confusion is quite valid. Let me see if I can make more sense here …

Orange fennel salad5Self-dressing salad of fennel, oranges, and red onion

My brother-in-law, Zach, is a hilarious guy and is one of those people who possesses the natural ability to make almost any situation funny if he wants to. I’m envious of this trait, as I myself can barely tell a joke without botching it, forgetting half of the pertinent details, and leaving my audience confused and still waiting for the punch line even after it’s long gone. Unlike me, Zach can tell a story and have people in stitches without really trying and one of my favorite “Zach” stories happens to involve Willie Nelson. I cannot remember the exact details of the story, so I’ll tell it in more of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” fashion, and hopefully somewhere in my telling there will be some accuracy.Self-dressing salad of fennel, oranges, and red onionSelf-dressing salad of fennel, oranges, and red onionOrange fennel salad

So here goes …

Once upon a time, Zach was playing golf somewhere in California/Washington/Oregon, and at some point stopped in the course’s pro shop/restaurant/bathroom (see how bad I am at this?). Another man who was waiting in line to buy something/eat something/relieve himself (again with the details, sorry) was apparently a dead ringer for Willie Nelson, Zach explained to us.

He had the denim, he had the extra denim, he had a bandana, he had the double braided gray hair. My brother-in-law and his Dad/his friend/the total stranger standing next to him laughed to themselves, muttering under their breaths “Who does this guy think he is, Willie Nelson?” Perhaps the muttering was a little louder than intended, because apparently the braided denim clad man turned around and was like, “Hi! I’m Willie Nelson!”

Ha! I nailed that last part. (You’ll have to ask Zach for the exact details, but you get the picture).

So you see, sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover, and that’s where this little salad comes in. Free from ostentation or pretension, there is nothing fussy, fancy, tricky, or particularly mysterious about it. It is a simple mixture of only three pure ingredients: fennel, oranges, and red onion. That’s it. There isn’t even a dressing. The juices from the oranges flow over the rest of the ingredients, dressing them up as much as they need to be. If you want, drizzle a little bit of good olive oil over top but honestly, that really isn’t even necessary. Like a simple, straightforward, three-chord country song, there’s just not a lot to peel back with this salad – literally, what you see is what you get. But THAT is what is so great about it.

The beauty in this recipe is that there isn’t more than meets the eye. It is EXACTLY what meets the eye, in fact. No more, and no less. You know, kind of like Willie Nelson.

 

RECIPE

Recipe adapted slightly from the one published in Molly Stevens’ fantastic book, All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art

Note: I have made this salad with varying degrees of roasting, all of them delicious. For example, in this instance (in the photos) I opted to roast the oranges per the recipe below, roast the fennel very slightly just to soften it, and I left the onions raw (because I love them).

 

1large or 2 small fennel bulbs (about 1 pound), fronds trimmed

1
 medium red onion, peeled

1
 small navel orange, washed

2
 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Using a cutting board, stand a fennel bulb on its base and cut it in half lengthwise. Remove most of the core from each half (a paring knife works best here). Lay each half flat on the cutting surface and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick crescent-shaped slices. Toss onto the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining fennel.

Slice the onion in half, cutting from root to stem end. Slice the onion halves crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons and add to the fennel on the tray.

Now, slice about 1 1/2 inches off each end of the orange and reserve (will use later to dress the salad). Stand the orange up on one cut end and halve it lengthwise, and then cut each half lengthwise in half again (you’ll have 4 pieces now). Arrange each quarter with its cut side down and slice crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick quarter-moon-shaped pieces.

Add the orange to the fennel and onion and drizzle the olive oil on top and season well with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat and arrange an even layer on the baking sheet.

Roast, stirring with a spatula after 15 minutes to ensure even cooking and again every 10 minutes or so. Continue roasting until the vegetables and orange are nice and tender and the outer edges are beginning to caramelize, about 25 to 40 minutes.

Transfer everything to a serving dish or individual serving plates. Let cool for at least 15 minutes or to room temperature. Squeeze the juice from one of the reserved orange ends over the salad and taste it. If necessary, add a pinch of salt and squeeze the other orange piece over it. Drizzle with a little good quality olive oil and serve warm or at room temperature.

 


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Chicken + Andouille Etouffee with a Side of Serendipity

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Of all the foods in all the world, my very favorite type to eat is undoubtedly, undeniably, and unabashedly that of the Cajun persuasion. With its own brand of joie de vivre and almost like it has an ornery twinkle in its eye (if food could do such a thing), there is something truly magical about the stuff that comes out of Louisiana – Bayou Country – and I’ve never enjoyed eating as much as I have on my visits to that state. This Cajun food love affair of mine is the hard-to-put-your-finger-on variety that, admittedly, makes it tough to find just the right words to describe and/or explain my longtime affection.

>> scratches head, fingers hovering over keyboard, takes sip of coffee <<

Hmmm … I think nostalgia plays a role here, as I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring various eateries throughout New Orleans (both popular haunts and lesser known establishments), and I have plenty of fond food memories stored away that must be contributing factors. After all, one does not soon forget the sugary food fight that inevitably erupts when you are first greeted with a tray of beignets at the Cafe Du Monde. I’m a bit of a neat freak myself, but loved every second of the sugary, messy scene that unfolded during my first time at the Cafe. I clearly remember sitting in a dreamy cloud of sugar, watching as happy patrons all playfully blanketed their dining companions in the iconic mountain of powdered sugar that sits atop those freshly fried doughnuts. As I set my cafe au lait down on the table at one point, I laughed, which of course disrupted my own sugar stash, sending it swirling around in the air and resulting in a memory that I get to keep forever. Calories be damned.

But there is more to my fondness for Cajun food than merely nostalgia from vacations past. After all, great food loves cannot be built on memories alone, can they? Flavor has to play a role, and as far as I’m concerned, Cajun food holds its own in that department. Unlike cuisines from other parts of the world that may require upwards of 20 – 30 ingredients just to flavor a single dish, a perfect Cajun gumbo, etouffee or jambalaya needs little more than a handful of fresh things that many of us already have on hand. Part of the magic of Cajun food, at least to me, is in the simplicity and the genius of its preparation. The respect paid to the ingredients and the complete and utter maximizing of their abilities, is what makes this type of food so great.

Five years ago, when my husband was in medical school, we lived in Norfolk, VA in an apartment in a very cool and very old house in the historic part of town. Most days, our mail was delivered by a postal worker named Sam who, I came to find out, was originally from New Orleans. One day, when he was dropping off our mail, he so expertly deduced that I was cooking Cajun food simply because the smells coming from our place were so familiar to him.  He told me (briefly, he was working after all) about his favorite places to eat in his hometown and how he always looked forward to his family’s gatherings on Sundays when they would get together to do crawfish boils. It was this chicken and sausage etouffee dish that I was making at the time, and the fact that he knew what it was just by the aromas that had escaped from my little apartment was so exciting to me. That was my first time ever making authentic Cajun food and I remember being a little nervous about it. My run-in with Sam in the hallway outside my place that day was just the thing I needed to boost my confidence. “Smells like home!” he said to me as he handed me my pile of bills and magazines, a huge grin spreading across his face. I must be doing something right, I thought to myself. How’s that for serendipity?

I’ve been making this wonderful recipe ever since, and have made it more times than any other dish – more times than I can count. I’ve literally made it all across the country at this point, from my current home outside D.C. to Kentucky, Saint Louis, Indiana, Virginia, Oregon, and even in American Samoa. Yes, I made etouffee in Samoa. I sort of tweak and play around with the recipe each time I make it, but never stray too far from its classic Cajun roots; I’m no dummy. I know a good thing when I taste it. So, since he helped instill in me the initial confidence I needed to believe in this dish, I feel it only appropriate that this post be dedicated to Sam, the friendly mailman with the warm smile, keen sense of smell and whose heart and stomach are clearly rooted in the city of New Orleans.

 

RECIPE

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 pound andouille sausage links

4 chicken thighs (bone in, skin off)

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

2 ribs celery, roughly chopped

1 green bell pepper, roughly chopped

4 cloves garlic

1 (12-ounce) can beer

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

2 tablespoons paprika

1 tablespoon of smoked sweet paprika

5 – 6 dashes of Worcestershire sauce

A few dashes of Tabasco sauce (or your preferred hot sauce)

Green onions, parsley and/or chives to garnish

Cooked white rice or grits for serving (I used some beautiful blue grits in the photo above)

 

Set a Dutch oven over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Add the sausage links and brown slightly as you render some of the fat. Remove and set aside on a paper towel. Cut into bite-sized pieced when they’re cool enough to handle. Season the chicken with plenty of salt and pepper and add skin side down to the pan. Cook over medium heat to render fat for 7 to 10 minutes, then turn to brown both sides of the chicken. Remove and set aside on a paper towels.

Reduce the heat to medium low and add 3 tablespoons of butter to melt with the fat already in the pot. Now add the flour, whisking to incorporate. Switch to a wooden spoon and cook, stirring frequently, until your roux (the fat/flour mixture) is nice and brown about 25 – 30 minutes.

In a food processor add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic, and pulse to roughly chop. Add this pulp to the pot with the roux and stir. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes and then deglaze the pot with the beer (let the beer cook out for 3 – 5 minutes). Add the stock, paprikas, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco. Return the chicken pieces and the sausage to the pot and simmer until the chicken is tender, about 1 hour. Remove the chicken pieces from pot to a cutting board and shred the meat (discard the bones). Return the chicken to the pot.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving platter or individual dishes and serve over hot cooked rice or grits. Garnish with scallions, parsley and/or chives. Enjoy!


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From Macaron to Macaroon: An Acceptance of Defeat

Classic Coconut MacaroonsClassic Coconut MacaroonsClassic Coconut MacaroonsClassic Coconut MacaroonsClassic Coconut Macaroons“If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” – my Mother

Damn macarons.

Sometimes in life you’ve just got to know when you’ve been bested. An ability to admit defeat and bow out of the competition, ever so gracefully, is a sign of good character, right? This is what I’ve been telling myself after a recent attempt at macaron making. As you might guess, this attempt did not exactly go so well, its results definitely not worthy of any praise or baking accolades. In fact, my measly and pitiful excuses for macarons are not really even worth serving, bless their hearts. I came. I saw. I did NOT conquer.

Macarons, the delightfully light-as-air French almond sandwich cookies, are one of the most attractive desserts you can eat, in my opinion. I mean that literally, in that I have always found myself extremely attracted to them. Dainty, colorful, crunchy little morsels of artful decadence, they are. I find them utterly irresistible and completely charming. This all being the case, I thought it only fitting that I give them a real go in my own kitchen. After all, I made croissants! How hard can these things be?

Yikes.

Very hard, turns out. The batter, with its almond meal and egg white composition, is tricky and rife with opportunity for utter failure. I made a few missteps along the way, failing to utilize the assistance of a piping bag, instead opting to spoon the batter onto the pans by hand. Note to self: don’t do that. I also made them of a very rainy, humid day, and apparently that is a no no. I should have known better. Prior to my macarons attempt, I read countless articles and blog posts about how making macarons is “easier than you think!” and “a total cinch!” Clearly I had a slightly different take on the matter, so I thought I’d take it upon myself to beef up the Internet’s inventory of negative and defeatist macaron vibes.

Alas, there are no hard feelings here. I instead will choose to be the bigger person and let bygones be bygones. They’re only cookies, after all. I am more than happy to leave this one to the masters from now on, and will happily and proudly enjoy my future macarons despite the annoying fact that I’ve yet to master them in my own kitchen. While I respect and value my mother’s encouraging words re: trying, trying again, I think I’ll sit this one out and enjoy the fruits (read, macarons) of others’ labor. My macaron making days are over, at least temporarily, and I will instead choose to embrace the much simpler, much more fool proof method of “macaroon making.” The addition of one little letter “o” and you’ve got a whole new ball game. A ball game that you can win, at that …

 

 

RECIPE

14 ounces of shredded sweetened coconut

14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract (you could add a little almond extract, orange zest or lemon zest to bump up the flavor even more)

 

Heat your oven to 325° F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper sprayed with non-stick spray. Or you can use Silpats, either way works!

Combine the three ingredients in a bowl, stirring to blend well. Drop by scant tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the macaroons are lightly browned around the edges. Transfer them to a rack or separate container to cool before storing, and enjoy.


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Butternut Squash Risotto with Crispy Prosciutto, Sage + Saffron

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There are some nights when the thought of getting in the kitchen and cooking a meal isn’t such a pleasant one. I’m busy! You’re busy! We’re ALL busy, aren’t we? So, perhaps babysitting a big steaming pot of risotto for the better part of an hour isn’t in the cards for everyone, every night of the week. However, when I do have nights that lend themselves to more leisurely meal prep, I often head down the risotto path. I’ve found that risotto gets a bad rap in that it is a little “labor intensive,” requiring frequent stirring and ladling of stock. But what is so terrible about stirring and ladling exactly? One man’s “labor intensive” is another man’s luxurious and therapeutic … and by “another man,” I mean me. I am the other man. Am I making sense?

Anyway, I have always loved the pseudo hypnotic aspect of risotto cookery; the trance-like state that comes from the delightfully repetitive nature of the dish’s preparation. You see, I actually look forward to that half-hour of all-in risotto cooking BECAUSE of the fact that it takes me away from other responsibilities and distractions, not in spite of it. There is a beauty in that. Getting lost in the art of the cooking process and savoring the rich aromas that intensify as the dish nears its completion – sweet wine, onions, roasting squash, butter – this, to me, is the kitchen equivalent of a nice hot bath. This might qualify me as a weirdo, but it’s the truth. If you’re going to get in the kitchen and cook a meal, why not fully engage in the experience and enjoy the process? I’d rather spend 30 minutes tending to a scratch-made risotto than 15 minutes heating up a boxed/canned/frozen conglomeration of ingredients. That little bit of extra time is so worth it in the end. You’ll get a better meal and a better sense of pride from having done it. Of that I am quite sure.

So, in other news, are you over butternut squash yet? No? Me neither. The incredible versatility of this vegetable makes it a tough one to tire of and there certainly is no shortage of recipes that utilize this autumnally ubiquitous food. Whether you prefer it in a savory application, such as a soup, pasta, my autumn squash chili, or in a casserole, or in a sweeter dish, such as a squash pie or cake, the possibilities for creativity and unique flavor pairings are seemingly endless. I’m not sure you could say that about every vegetable. Take potatoes for example, or the ever popular kale (the reigning homecoming queen of vegetables), or onions even. These things are all delicious in their own right but do not possess the same range and sweet/savory versatility of the butternut squash. I mean, onion cake? Thanks but no thanks.

This risotto recipe is one of my very favorite meals both to prepare and to enjoy and admittedly, I make it year-round. However, it does seem to shine a little brighter during these brisk Fall months, when both the squash and sage are in season and the innately comforting quality of a creamy, steamy bowl of intensely flavored rice just hits the spot. I use a sweeter wine in this recipe, as opposed to drier wines that are typically seen in risottos. Reason being, I think the sweeter notes play really well with the sweet qualities of the squash as well as the sweeter onions that stand as the base for the dish. I also tested cinnamon in the recipe for the same reason. It bridges that gap between sweet and savory and hums a quietly complementary note alongside some of the dish’s louder elements. I’m not a huge fan of prosciutto in its original cured state. However, if you crisp it up in a pan, it becomes something else entirely and I have a hard time not eating all of it before the meal is actually served.

That salty prosciutto, the earthy freshness of the sage, the sweet notes of the squash, and the unmistakeable tang of goat cheese make for such an elegant and interesting dish that is easy and fun to prepare. It might look like a big undertaking, but this recipe is simple and straightforward to make – really it is. I urge you to try it and let me know how you fare! If you play around with the ingredients, please feel free to share your tweaks with me. I view even my very favorite recipes as works in progress, and I’m always excited to take them down new twists and turns.

RECIPE

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes

8 tablespoons (give or take) extra virgin olive oil, divided

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

6 cups chicken stock

1.5 teaspoons saffron threads (you can leave this out if you prefer)

6 slices of prosciutto

12 sage leaves

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1/2 small sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla), diced

1.5 cups Arborio rice

4 oz. sweet white wine (such as Riesling)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (optional)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Toss the cubed squash in two tablespoons of olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 – 30 minutes, turning once, or until softened and lightly golden brown. Set aside when done.

Add the chicken stock and saffron to a medium saucepan over medium heat and keep warm until use (using warm stock when making risotto optimizes the texture and consistency of the rice and cooks it more evenly).

Add the prosciutto, in batches, to a medium pan over medium-high heat and cook on each side until lightly browned and crisped (this happens fast, about 2 – 3 minutes per side should do it). Break up into pieces or shards for topping the risotto and set aside.

In the same pan in which you cooked the prosciutto, maintain the heat on medium-high and add four tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot, fry the sage leaves for about 20 – 30 seconds per side, or until lightly browned (they will pop and frizzle violently when you do this – that’s a good thing). Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter along with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and saute’ the diced onions until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the Arborio rice to the pan with the onions and stir to coat in the oil and butter. Cook for about 3 – 5 minutes, to toast the grains slightly (stirring, stirring).

Deglaze the pan with the wine, and cook until it is almost completely reduced (about 2 – 3 minutes). Add two ladles full of the warm stock to the pan plus about a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of pepper as well as the cinnamon. Cook until the stock is almost completely evaporated (about 6 – 8 minutes). Make sure to stir while this is happening, as the stirring will develop the starches and contribute to a proper creamy risotto.

Keep adding the stock, 2 ladles full at a time, stirring frequently (every couple of minutes is fine). Each time, cook until the mixture is almost totally dry, and then add more stock. When you’ve used up about 2/3 of the stock, add the squash cubes into the pot. Add stock until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente (should take about 30 minutes). Turn off the heat and add the Parmesan cheese and another two tablespoons of butter. Mix well.

To serve, pour the risotto into serving bowls or into one big serving platter and top with some of the crispy prosciutto, frizzled sage and crumbled goat cheese, if desired. 

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