Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankfulness and Risotto di Zucca

Today is an "over the top" feeding frenzy in the states. I can't say I miss the overindulged feeling after the grand feast, but I must say that I miss the warm cozy get together with friends and family and reflections on all the many blessings that we sometimes forget to verbalize. I am grateful for all the magnificent feasts for holidays, birthdays, weddings and simple gatherings of friends gathering together "potluck" style that rumble around in the memory of loved ones once so close and now separated by the miles and the years. Happy that Fabrizio's parents are still healthy and living next door. Grateful for all the guests that have not only stayed with us here at Bella Baita, grateful that they have become friends and part of the family over these past few years. What a wonderful opportunity to meet new people, have them choose to spend their holidays with us, share meals, laughs, stories and anecdotes on their travels here and hopefuly have a better understand and appreciation for this part of the world. When it's all said and done, we call this work. It's a labor of love and it's oh, so satisfying. I'm grateful for the opportunity to cook and bake almost every single day and share that passion with eager eaters. Even if we don't have guests there is still my eager eater Fabrizio and that is truly a joy to share our meals as well as our lives together. And now, I'm really grateful for all the interesting people that have found their way into my view here at Bella Baita. What a journey of discovery in this virtual world that brings people to your doorstep that would have never found their way other wise and by the same token, has taken me into the kitchen and lives of people bumping by on our way around the blogosphere. I'm extremely grateful for high speed internet connection up here in the mountains for bringing the wonders of the world closer to home at the click of a mouse. So, while American are enjoying roast turkey and copious amounts of everything else, a lot of Italians will be watching the lastest installment of the serialization of "Il Capo dei Capi". The story of mafia don "Toto Riina"and his close friend and partner for many years, Bernardo Provenzano, both of Corleone, Sicily. "Toto" allegedly was turned in so Bernardo, could take over the territory and title, "Boss of Bosses"and eluded capture for 43 years till 2006. Their story has been brought to the small screen to the extreme fascination of the whole of Italy. It is a riveting, glamorized, bloody account of Italian mafia history and something that I'm thankful for that I didn't have to live through in my life. It still is a nightmare for many people today.
Anyway, even though we're not making a Thanksgiving meal, I got to thinking about the traditional use of winter squash and pumpkin, that sees its use spike this time of the year, and thought I might add a suggestion to your winter squash repertoire, risotto di zucca. This is a perennial favorite up here in Piedmont where some of the best arborio and carnaroli rice
is grown and makes wonderfully creamy risotto without a lot of additions. The Po river valley is an abundant producer for the rest of Italy with our favorite grains of rice, corn and wheat found and used religiously here. The addition of some cubes of your favorite winter squash to the traditional Piemontese risotto, which keeps it simple with onion, garlic, rice, and white wine cooked very al dente (much more than most Americans are use to) and finished with a pat of butter and a generous grating of fresh Parmigiano and black pepper, served immediately. Risotto makes for a very comforting dish on a cold blustery day? Using a good quality risotto rice sauted in decent olive oil, you will find that you relly don't need to use the butter as it is quite creamy on it's own. I like to sometimes add a fresh grate or two of lemon peel on top, to intensify the squashes flavor for a bit of a subtle zing. this recipe is easily adjusted up to serve more.
Risotto di Zucca
serves 2 generous portions

1 clove garlic minced
1 small onion or 2 shallots
2 cups cubed smallish winter squash, like hubbard or even pumpkin
1 1/2 cups carnaroli or arborio rice (usually 1/2 cup rice per person for a serving in a larger meal)
1/3 cup white wine
1/4 cup olive to saute
1 -1 1/2 liter, very flexible amount vegetable or chicken broth, unsalted if you make your own
if salted, be careful of how much you use as it can sometimes be too salty, use a bit of water instead
Parmigiano to season at the end
2 T of butter to add at the end for added richness, if desired
Salt to taste
fresh grated pepper
grate or two of lemon peel ( optional)

Chop the garlic and onion and squash.
Have your broth at boiling temperature before starting to saute.
Begin to saute the onion in the a couple of T of olive oil over a medium heat.
The key is not to have any of the vegetable or rice to pick up any color, just gently saute.
As the shallots get transparent add the rice and saute for a couple of minutes.
Add the squash cubes and additional oil if it begins to stick to the bottom of the pan
Saute till the rice begins to be a nutty fragrant aroma, being careful not to pick up any color.
When the rice is aromatic , deglaze the pan by adding the white wine.
Cook until all the wine is absorbed before you begin to add the stock
Once all the wine is absorbed, add a generous amount of stock, so it's well covered.
My Italian family, who ran a successful restaurant for years, don't adhere to the little by little amount of stock method. I find their rice delicious and have had good results, so use your own judgement. If uncertain, add a cu at a time and wait, stirring regularly, waiting till the stock is absorbed before adding the next amount. Usually the process from the beginning of the addition of the liquid takes about 16-20 minutes depending on how al dente you like it.
When the rice reaches the proper creaminess and doneness, ie a bit of resistance when you bite into it.
Taste and quickly adjust your seasoning after the addition of any butter or olive oil and serve immediately as they rice will continue to cook in the pot.
You can also add the parmesan now if you find that the rice lacks salt but you don't want to keep adding salt
Serve and garnish steaming rice with freshly grated parm, pepper and lemon peel.

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