Teachers come in all forms. You find teachers at school, of course. But you can also find teachers in friends, and in coworkers. Even strangers can teach important lessons if you’re paying close attention. The best lessons come unexpectedly. These are the ones that change how you think about yourself, others, and the world.
Which brings us to risotto. Any recipe for risotto coalesces into a simple technique – warm liquid added slowing to arborio rice unleashes starches as the rice cooks. The result can be a richly sublime dish, equally capable of playing host to light flavors like asparagus and lemon as it is to embracing deep homey flavors like beef and mushrooms with thyme.
The rub – and the lesson – lies in the simplicity of the technique. Simple does not mean easy. Simple does not mean quick. Simple (at least in cooking) requires care, attention, and often patience. Rush a simple recipe and odds are you’ll end up with something subpar. The more simple the recipe, the fewer options there are to make adjustments to cover lapses or mistakes. You just don’t have anyplace to hide. The first time I made risotto, I tried to rush the recipe by cooking over too high a flame. The result? Crunchy, partially cooked rice in a soupy morass.
When you’re old enough, risotto will be one of the first dishes we cook together. The sooner you learn patience as a cook, to pay attention to small details, and to cook with all of your senses, the better. The lessons will show in your cooking.
Butternut Squash Risotto with Bacon
1/2 butternut squash
4 slices of bacon
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 C chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 C dry white wine
1 tsp dried sage
1 C arborio rice
Scoop out the seeds from the squash. Place on a cooking sheet, cut side up. Brush with olive oil and roast at 400 for 30 minutes or until tender. Cool.
Pour the stock into a medium pot. Add the sage and heat over medium-low heat until just below a simmer.
While the stock is warming, cook the bacon in a large stock pot over medium heat. Remove the bacon and drain it on a paper towel. Add the onions to the bacon fat and reduce the heat to medium-low. (If the fat’s burned, dump it in a heat-proof cup or ramekin and add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pot.)
While the onions are cooking, use a large spoon to scoop out the squash flesh. Coarsely chop the squash. Once the onions are translucent, add the squash to the onions in the stockpot. As the squash cooks, use the back of a wooden spoon to break down the squash. Continue to cook until you have a rough sauce.
Add the rice and wine. Stirring constantly, cook until the liquid has been absorbed. Add 1/2 cup of the stock to the pot and cook (keep stirring!) until the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat until all of the stock’s been used. Crumble the bacon and add to the pot.
Adjust seasonings to taste.