Monday, February 16, 2009

From Field to Table

My CSA farm, Green Cay Produce in Boynton Beach, Florida just delivered the latest box full of their amazing freshly harvested veggies. Because we’re in the tropics, our growing season begins in the fall and goes through the late spring. This box contains zucchini, a ton of cucumbers, arugula, two butternut squash, two kinds of eggplant, almost a dozen ears of corn and a watermelon. There are also two bags of okra, which is not one of my favorites, but definitely worth another try. In addition to the mouth watering rainbow of veggies, there was a special surprise tucked inside the box. One of the Farm’s drivers decided to give everyone a cutting from her vervain plant, a pretty little flower that is likely to attract a butterfly or two. I laid all of the veggies on the counter and tried to decide where to dig in first.

I grab the butternut squash. This versatile veggie is one of my favorites. For tonight’s treat, we’re preparing Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto. I know that cooks are often intimidated by the preparation of this dish, but in truth, it’s pretty easy. Begin by peeling the squash, cutting it in half and removing the seeds. Then chop it into ½-inch cubes. Place the cubes onto a baking sheet (use one with sides so that they don’t roll off the pan). Drizzle the squash cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper and your favorite squash spices. I like ground cinnamon and chili powder, but Chinese five-spice or a combo of dried oregano and fresh garlic is wonderful, too. The beauty of cooking is experimenting with lots of different flavors! Roast the squash cubes until soft about 15 to 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Meanwhile peel and finely dice a large shallot (or small onion). Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until their soft, just a couple of minutes. At this point, I add a bit of white wine to flavor the shallot and then let it cook away. Pour in a cup of Arborio rice. Cover the rice with chicken broth. Stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Pour in more stock to cover and continue stirring. You want two parts stock to one part rice. When all of the stock is absorbed you are ready to add the squash. Finish the risotto with a touch of cream, a pat of butter, salt and pepper and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Yumm Yumm!!

I use room temperature stock from the pantry, but true culinary chefs will advise you to heat the stock and add just a ladle at a time. Most agree that the entire process should take only about 20 minutes – which is the perfect amount of time to roast the squash. If you are preparing the risotto for a dinner party you can make it ahead and then finish it as your guests take their seats. Begin the recipe and start adding the stock. Stop with one ladle full of stock in reserve. You can roast the squash and keep at room temperature until you are ready to proceed with the recipe. Remove the risotto from the heat and cover. When you are ready to proceed, gently warm the risotto and stock. Add the last ladle of stock and stir. The mixture should be creamy, not sticky or loose. You can add more stock if needed at this point. When the risotto is the correct consistency, add the squash and the finishing touches.

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