Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Recipe: Risotto-Style Quinoa with Butternut Squash & Crispy Sage

Risotto is so so up there on my list of comfort foods. And it’s not just the creamy, starchy texture – but the actual cooking process. Risotto takes patience. And a wicked good playlist.

So when I found myself with a solid few hours to spare Saturday afternoon, I happily spent a good portion of them hovered over the stove, ladling and stirring to a Ray LaMontagne Pandora station. Who said therapy was expensive?

Rather than use Arborio rice – the standard grain-of-choice for risotto – I swapped in quinoa. Beyond boasting superfood-status health benefits, the quinoa developed a rich, nutty flavor after toasting the grains for a few minutes. It ended up being the perfect contrast to the sweet, caramelized butternut squash.

Note 1: Please, for the sake of your 10 digits, do not blindly hack away at a butternut squash. Nuke the squash for 2 minutes to start to soften it up a bit, and then check out this step-by-step tutorial for cubing that stubborn butternut.

Note 2: To make crispy fried sage, heat enough olive oil in a small pan over medium heat to just cover the leaves. Once oil is hot, drop in 1 fresh sage leaf. The herb should sizzle pretty violently, but retain its green color. If it immediately turns brown, the heat is too high. Once the sage leaf stops sizzling (approx. 15-20 seconds), flip and fry on the other side. After sizzling dies down once more, remove the leaf with tongs and place on a paper towel to drain. 

Ingredients (Serves about 4)
1 butternut squash (2-3 lbs), peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp butter
1 small or ½ medium white or yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa
1/3 cup white wine
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (gluten free)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp chopped fresh sage
Extra sage for garnish (optional, see Note 2 above)

Recipe
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the cubed squash on a foil-lined baking sheet, and toss with enough olive oil to coat, and salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring halfway through, until squash is easily pierced with a fork. Set aside.

Pour all of the stock into a pot and place over low heat. You don’t want the stock to boil, just to warm through.

In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat. Once butter is melted, add onion, ¼ tsp of salt and ¼ tsp pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent but not browned. Add garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.

Add quinoa. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until quinoa smells toasty and fragrant. Pour white wine into the pot, and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed.

Using a ladle, add about ½ cup of the warm stock to the quinoa. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Then, add another ladle of stock. Repeat this process until curly tails emerge from the quinoa grains, and it’s cooked through. (Taste to make sure.) This process should take about a half hour and 3 to 3 ½ cups of stock.

Once the quinoa is cooked to your liking, remove the pot from heat. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and sage, and then gently toss in the cooked butternut squash. If the squash and/or quinoa need reheating, place over medium-low heat and add more stock if necessary.

Garnish with crispy fried sage leaves (optional) and serve hot.   

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