Saturday, March 26, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Smoked Bacon and Arugula

This looks long and complicated, but it's not particularly difficult -- just roast the squash and sweet potatoes at some point during the day when it's easy to check on the oven a couple of times, and set aside until you're ready to cook the risotto. And yes, we've put cumin and bacon in the same dish. You can blame Andalusia (and then, once you've tried it, you can thank the Christians and Moors for generously blending their cuisines as they fought over Cordoba, thereby freeing us of the limiting notion that Moroccan spices don't belong in close company with European herbs and meats).

1 small butternut squash (about 1.5 lbs), halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch slices
1 thin Japanese sweet potato, lightly scrubbed clean
28 oz veggie broth (Imagine's low sodium is currently our favorite brand)
1 1/2 strips Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon, sliced crosswise
Olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1 generously rounded cup Arborio rice
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup dry white wine
Scant 1/2 tsp dried sage
Salt, to taste (unless you're using a heavily salted broth in the first place)
Freshly ground white pepper
4 oz baby arugula
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with foil and sprinkle with a little olive oil. Place squash slices cut side down, still pushed together (so that you have two rows of squash slices that look like the two halves of the squash, face down). Put the Japanese sweet potato on the side of the pan, then roast for 35-45 minutes until squash is golden brown and tender and sweet potato is soft, turning the squash slices on their side about halfway through (to brown on two sides rather than just one). If the Japanese sweet potato is thick, it will take longer to cook than the squash.

Set squash and half the sweet potato aside to cool, then cut away from skin and slice into flattish squares (about 3/4" square and less than 1/4" thick -- you'll want to use all of the squash and enough sweet potato to make about 1/4 to 1/3 cup after it's sliced).

Put the broth in a pot and bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low, uncover, and let simmer gently as you cook the risotto (this evaporates some of the liquid and makes the taste even richer).

Meanwhile, heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until lightly browned. Drain most but not all of the excess fat from the pot, then add the onion and a glug of olive oil and cook for five minutes or so until soft. Next, add the garlic, and continue to saute for a couple more minutes.

Add the rice and cumin to the pot and toast, stirring, for 2-3 more minutes. Next, add the white wine and cook, stirring, until it's absorbed. Begin adding the broth, one ladleful at a time, cooking and stirring until each addition is absorbed before adding the next.

When most of the broth has been added and the rice tastes almost done (mostly soft with just a little hint of crunch in the middle of the grain), add the squash and the sweet potato and stir gently to combine with the rice. Add another ladleful of broth, stir gently, and cook until it's absorbed.

Add the sage, salt, and a liberal dousing of white pepper, and stir to combine. Next, add the arugula and spoon one last ladleful of broth over the top to help it start to wilt. Fold gently into the rice and continue cooking until liquid is mostly absorbed.

Turn off the heat, stir in the Parmesan, and serve. Let cool for a minute or two, then bring to the table.

Serves 3.

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