Some people are culinarily inclined from an early age. They stand on little footstools beside their mothers in the kitchen rolling cookie dough or kneading bread. I have only a few memories of cooking during my childhood. For me, it was a risotto, carefully stirred over the front burner of the stove in the first home I had bought with my husband that gave me the confidence I needed to experiment with fine cooking.
Though I had always had a taste for gourmet cuisine, my own kitchen exploits were simple at best. Dried packaged pasta dishes with extra vegetables added in, pizza with a pre-prepared crust, casseroles made from canned soup: my early cooking was assisted substantially by Lipton, Ragu and Campbell. I don’t remember what inspired me to try making risotto that day five years ago, but there I was, hovering over my laptop in the kitchen, reading and re-reading Jamie Oliver’s recipe for simple risotto. I melted a generous spoonful of butter in a saucepan with some olive oil and cooked onions and garlic until they were translucent and scented the house with their savoury aroma. Thinking it was a little strange but trusting the recipe and quietening my instincts, I poured the hard grains of arborio rice into the mixture and stirred them for a minute. This I timed on the clock despite not being the type of cook to do anything precisely: this recipe seemed just complicated enough to me that I thought better of my wanton urges in the kitchen.
It was when I added a large glass of white wine into the pot and was greeted with one of the most alluring smells a cook can possibly produce – onions, garlic, butter and wine sizzling together – that I was convinced I was on the right track. Truthfully, in retrospect, now that I have added mushroom and spinach, squash and prosciutto, and lemon asparagus risottos to my repertoire, I realize the recipe is quite simple. The most complicated ingredient is the patience required to slowly stir the rice, massaging the starch from the grain, loosening it into wine and broth. This process is meditative, and I believe, when approached with a healthy dose of contemplation and perhaps even adoration, it makes the difference between a lovely, fragrant risotto that melts across your plate and a sticky, starchy glop.
I make this dish when I’m in the mood to stir, to think about my day while staring at the backsplash. Conveniently, it is also incredibly delicious and very impressive when served to dinner guests.
Here’s what you need:
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
6 slices of prosciutto
2 cups arborio rice, uncooked
1L chicken broth
1 glass of wine…or more
1 medium onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
~4 tbsp butter
~2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Here’s what you do:
Preheat your oven to 400F. Add the diced squash to an oven-safe dish (I use the 8×11 Pyrex that I use for roasting vegetables) and toss with a glug of olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper. Place this in the oven and cook until squash is soft. Once the squash is mostly done, layer the prosciutto on top of the squash and broil briefly, or until the prosciutto begins to crisp.
Meanwhile, pour the broth into a pot and set on the stove over low heat. Using a large pot, begin to warm the olive oil and half of the butter. Once the butter has melted, add in the onions and garlic. Cook these over low heat so that the onions begin to sweat and become soft but they do not brown.
Once the onions are cooked, toss in the rice and stir quickly until the rice is transluscent – about one minute. Now add in the glass of wine. Start to stir the rice and liquid mixture, massaging the starch out of the rice. As the liquid is absorbed, add a ladle full of the warm broth. Keep adding broth by the ladleful as the previously added liquid is absorbed by the rice.
Once you have used all the broth, try the rice to see if it’s done to your liking. If it needs more cooking, just warm up some water in the pot you used for the broth and add that.
When the rice is finished, add in the rest of the butter, the cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let the butter and cheese melt for about five minutes.
Tear up 2/3 of the prosciutto and add it and the squash to the finished risotto and stir. Use the remaining prosciutto to garnish, with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese too, if you wish.
Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver’s book “Jamie’s Kitchen”