Another trick I learned at the farm

I've been trying to write a post about this risotto for days. Nothing I think of seems appropriate.
The recipe is inspired by a dish that the volunteers cooked at the farm, a squash "risotto" made with your regular run-of-the-mill white rice and a homemade vegetable stock born from otherwise unusable scraps. I must admit that I actually had no part in the risotto's creation; I was a mere but keen spectator, one who obsessively scratched down the recipe and photographed it, before sampling and offering my greatest praises.

Before this adventure last week I had never made risotto, never been inspired to. In fact, I had rarely eaten it. I recommend doing both, though. Risotto is rich and satisfying, and I love it for its versatility and inherent simplicity. Even on the farm, when our resources were limited, our squash boiled, and rice so completely unspecial, the dish was impressive.

The flavors of roasted squash and sage are sophisticated, yet the process for combining them here is straightforward. Take this recipe and substitute almost any seasoning or vegetable addition. Peas and mushrooms also create a satisfying combination.

Toasted seeds make for a resourceful hors d'oeuvre, and a happy memory of cooking on the farm's temperamental stove, when dinners were always a toss-up, but never a disappointment.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto and Toasted Squash Seeds

1 medium-sized butternut squash
6 c chicken or vegetable broth
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 tsp minced garlic
5 tbs grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper

40 - 50 minutes before planning to start the risotto begin to roast the squash. Preheat oven to 450°F. Halve squash lengthwise and remove the seeds, but do not throw them out. Cut the squash across into slices, about 1 1/2-inch-wide, and season with salt and lightly with olive oil. Place the slices skin side down in a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet in the middle of the oven until they are soft, 40 - 50 minutes.

As the squash is roasting, clean and dry the seeds. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and other spices if you like. Toast them in a frying pan over medium to medium-low heat drizzled with olive oil, stirring occasionally so the seeds do not stick. They are done when they are lightly browned or begin to pop.

When the squash is finished, set aside one slice per plate that you will serve as a garnish. Keep these slices warm. Remove and discard skin from remaining slices and cut into 1/2-in pieces.

Bring broth to a simmer in a large sauce pan. Cover and let simmer as you cook.

Meanwhile cook onion in butter in a heavy pot over medium heat, stirring until softened, about 6 minutes. Add rice and garlic, and cook, stirring about 3 minutes to toast the rice and blend the flavors.

Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth, or one ladleful, and cook stirring frequently with heat at medium until the liquid is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is creamy-looking but still al dente, about 30 - 40 minutes. The rice should look gooey and thick, like a creamy soup. The key is to stir constantly so the liquid does not boil. It is okay if you have leftover broth.

When the rice is cooked stir in squash pieces with cheese, sage, and salt and pepper. Continue stirring to blend flavors. Do not hesitate to thin the risotto out with leftover broth with necessary. Serve immediately, topped with shaved slices of Parmesan.

Serves 4.

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