Full disclosure: I love orange foods.
Sweet potatoes, oranges, squash, mangoes …. if it’s orange, you can likely bet I’ll eat it. There have been many times when orange foods saved the day as the only thing I’d eat. (People often ask Mama where I get my “tan” from; she just says it’s “all that beta-carotene.”) My favorite is when Mama bakes acorn or butternut squash and sweet potatoes or yams and serves it mashed with butter, coconut milk, or coconut oil and cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and/or nutmeg. This preparation was one of the first things I could feed myself.
Mushrooms, though, are another story. I’ve had them, and I can’t say that I much care for them. Mama sautés them in olive oil and butter so they’re good and golden (she says the secret is in letting them alone and not seasoning them until they’re nearly done). Her “go to” mushroom is cremini, or “baby bella,” but I notice that she often uses shiitake and other funky fungi. She rarely uses white button mushrooms, and I can’t blame her as they just sound icky.
Tonight, Mama’s frying up some mushrooms and roasting butternut squash for her risotto. Some people think risotto’s complicated to make, but not Mama. She says it’s just a matter of timing and having everything ready to go. So the squash was already in the oven, and the mushrooms were sizzling on the stove, even before she chopped her onion. Mama also notes that a cook shouldn’t be a slave to the risotto, whatever that means. It must be a good thing because she has time to run around after me while it’s cooking. That said, she doesn’t let her risotto dry out. She keeps her stock hot, and adds it to the rice before it starts to stick to the pan. Risotto’s supposed to be creamy, without the addition of cream.
I’d be lying if I said I devoured it right off the bat. A baby gets to be finicky from time to time. But after a few bites of luscious, flavorful rice and sweet squash, Mama slipped a mushroom onto my spoon. And I ate it. The next one too. And the one after that. In fact, I had a small second helping of risotto. I had to dump it out of my bowl and onto the tray of my highchair in order to eat it, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes. You win another one, Mama.
Butternut Squash and Wild Mushroom Risotto
(Mama makes her risotto “by feel,” so amounts are approximate)
½ medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into ½”-1″ cubes
Olive oil, to coat
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp (each) olive oil and butter
8-12 ounces assorted mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (or chopped)
1 quart (or so) chicken or vegetable stock
1 medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp (each) olive oil and butter
½-1 cup dry white wine (optional)
1 cup (or so) Arborio rice
Handful or 2 of baby spinach (optional)
Minced fresh sage (optional)
Parmesan cheese (wedge, not canned)
Preheat oven to 400°. Toss the squash in a shallow roasting pan or cookie sheet with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast until tender, 15-20 minutes. (Stir once during baking.)
Meanwhile, heat the Tbsp oil and butter in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Sauté the mushrooms until browned. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Bring the stock to a simmer.
Heat the 2 Tbsp oil and butter in a large frying pan (with sides) or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the rice and stir to combine. Let the rice cook a few minutes, stirring if necessary to prevent it from sticking or the onions from burning.
Add a ladleful of stock to the rice. (It will send up a cloud of steam!) Add the wine, if using. Now you just watch it, off and on, for about 20 minutes or so. Stir the rice and let it absorb the liquid—not all the way. You don’t want a dry pan. But dry enough. Add another ladleful of stock, stir, and keep an eye on it. Go make a salad or pour yourself a glass of the wine. If you really don’t want to be tied to the risotto, add 2 ladles of stock at a time.
Taste the rice. It should have an ever-so-slight bite to it. Then it’s done. (But if it’s completely soft, it’s not ruined.) Add your reserved mushrooms and squash, along with one more ladle of stock. (You might not use it all–or you might use more.) Throw in a couple handfuls of baby spinach and the sage, if desired. Grate the Parmesan over the pan (or use a Microplane), according to however much you like, and turn off the heat. Give it all a stir, give it a taste to adjust seasonings, and it’s done.
Note: Mama makes all kinds of risottos throughout the year. If you’re using vegetables (like sugar snap peas) or other foods (like shrimp) that cook very quickly, add them toward the end of the rice’s cooking time. You can also vary the kind of liquid you use, such as for a red wine risotto (which Mama has not given me, just so you know).