RICE IS NICE
What’s cooking today: Butternut risotto
Sage is a pleasing companion for butternut, and the roasting of the butternut first adds a lovely underlayer of caramelisation to the flavour of the risotto.
Take your time with a risotto; it’s one of the joys of cooking for those of us for whom standing at the stove is both relaxation and food for the soul. If you’ve never cooked one, possibly unnerved by its reputation, please give it a try. You’ll be well rewarded. The outcome you want is a creamy rice dish in which the grains of rice are intact and al dente; what you don’t want is a mush in which the rice has disintegrated. That creaminess comes from the starch coating the rice grains.
Risotto is considered a challenge to any cook, but it is easy once you’ve understood the principle of how to deal with it. The key is to have a light touch with the wooden spoon or spatula, and — very important — to be sure to coat every grain of rice with olive oil right at the outset. Also very important is not to rinse the rice, as you would when making rice for a curry. This dish needs all the starch that you would wash away by rinsing, ruining any chance of having a good result with the dish.
1 medium butternut
Crushed dried garlic, as needed
Olive oil, as needed
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup arborio rice
500 ml dry white wine
1 litre vegetable stock
A small handful of sage leaves, no stems
Salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 200℃. Peel the butternut and remove the seeds. Slice into chunks. Pour a little olive oil into an oven pan and add the butternut pieces. Toss them to coat with oil, then season with garlic powder (crushed dried garlic) and salt.
Roast until the butternut flesh is tender but not dried out, about 30 minutes, but test for doneness with a fork and cook longer if needed. They should caramelise a little on the outside. Turn halfway through cooking.
Have the stock to hand (warm or at room temperature, and also have the wine ready, at room temperature.
Peel and chop the onion and cook in a little olive oil until softened. Remove to a side dish.
In the same pan, add more olive oil and then pour in the arborio rice. Drizzle more olive oil over and move the rice around the pan with a flat-edged wooden spoon or spatula to ensure that every grain is coated in oil. Do this on a low to moderate heat.
When the butternut is cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, cut it into small pieces.
Add a little wine at a time to the rice, stirring slowly all the while, on a moderate heat. When most of the wine has been absorbed, add more, continuing to stir. Do this until all the wine has been added and absorbed. Return the cooked onion to the dish, add the chopped sage, and toss the cooked butternut pieces through the cooked rice. Season with salt and pepper along the way, tasting to check whether the flavour balance is right, and adjusting salt or pepper if necessary.
Repeat this process with the stock. When the last lot of stock has been added, cook only a little while longer so that the mixture remains wet.
Stir in a cupful of grated Parmesan.
Serve with more grated Parmesan and garnish with a sprig of sage. DM
Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.
This dish is photographed in a risotto bowl by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.