Learning to love Risotto

The first time I ever had risotto was in 1990. I remember because I was in first year university and it was the first time I’d had dinner with both of my parents at the same time, since they divorced when I was seven.  I wasn’t sure if it would be awkward but it ended up being a riot.

My mum, younger sister and I went to Windsor to visit my paternal grandmother (my French Nanny). She had moved from Quebec City where she’d lived most of her life, to Windsor to be closer to my dad. So, we all went for dinner to a “fancy” Italian restaurant and the waiter encouraged us to try this “new” shrimp risotto.  Hilarious now but honestly, we’d never heard of it.  So, my dad and I went for it and, ugh, it was AWFUL!  It wasn’t creamy and delicious, more mushy and grainy. I remember it as white slop with a fishy, shrimp flavour. The “chef” had obviously boiled and dissolved the shrimp while cooking the rice.  My dad is a real character (hate to say it but think, Chevy Chase in the Vacation movies) and he had us all in stitches with his facial expressions as he savoured each awful bite.

I gave risotto another try MANY years later and found it to be so-so.  Since then, I’ve experimented with it and now only like this one recipe. I never order it when I go out anymore!  Risotto is a bit of a hassle because you have to stand over the pots transferring water or broth from one pot to another but once and awhile, I just fancy it. Plus, everyone in the house will eat it SO that’s a win. This one is also great if you love squash (like me) but not everyone in your family does.

2 tbsp butter/margarine
1 small white onion, finely diced
1-2 tsp of minced fresh garlic (your taste)
1-2 carrots, scrubbed and grated (it should be about a cup/250 mL or so)
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks. Discard the seeds. 🙂
2 cups arborio rice (make sure you buy this type of rice!)
2 vegetable stock cubes
8 cups of water

2 cups of freshly grated cheese. I use a mixture of cheddar and Parmesan

1. In a large saucepan, start boiling the squash in lots of water (about 8 cups). Add the vegetable stock cubes too. Get it hot!
2. In another large pot, melt your butter and cook off the onion and garlic. When the onion is translucent, add the grated carrots. When they begin to soften, add the rice and stir it all up.  When that’s done, you’re going to think that it will burn so use a 1/2 cup measuring cup and take scoop of the boiling squash water and add it to the rice pot.  Stir often until your rice has absorbed most of the liquid (about three minutes). Continue adding your squash water, 1/2 cup at a time, until absorbed. Each time, it takes a bit longer so just be patient and keep stirring (this is the hassle!). Keep heat between medium and medium-low so your mixture is simmering.
3. Once the squash is soft (about 15 minutes in), you can start adding this to the rice too as you transfer the water over.  Do this gradually until all the squash is added (it does dissolve but this works so much better than the shrimp!) You will likely need all the squash water to get the rice to the point where it’s cooked, and creamy but not soupy. This takes more than 30 minutes but less than 45.
4. I serve this up, then add cheese to each bowl.  I only do this because I dislike washing cheesy saucepans.  You can add the cheese to the pan and stir it all in if you prefer.

Serves my large, hungry family of 6 and sometimes there is some left over for lunch the next day.

Tip: If you like, add grated zucchini or finely chopped celery to the onions/carrots step. This is also very nice!

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