Not only did it encompass everything that makes me happy in a food (butter, wine, starch, meat, cheese); making it was a process that I found thoroughly enjoyable, especially if I had friends around. The risotto dinner routine from those days goes something like this:
Heat broth. Pour a glass of wine for everyone. Start the butter, the onion, the rice. Start talking. Splash some wine into the pan. Splash some wine into the glasses. Ladle broth into the rice, and start stirring. More wine, more gossip, more broth, more stirring.
Eventually everyone sits down, flushed from the steam and the stirring and the wine. The conversation doesn’t really slow down, because another advantage of risotto is that it is completely uncomplicated to eat.
These days, while I still love the uncomplicatedness of eating risotto, still love the wine and the conversation, the risotto dinner routine has had to evolve somewhat.
It may seem hard to imagine, but I have discovered (necessity being the mother of invention) that a really creamy, delectable and soul-satisfying risotto can still be had without my standing over the stove for half an hour and coaxing it into being.
Friends, I have given up the stirring.
And it has changed my life.
Risotto for a New Reality
By some miracle, my daughter, who has an aversion to vegetables and doesn’t like her food to be mixed together, devours this dish. I also buy my squash already diced, and my pancetta already cubed, which adds considerably to the ease of making it on a weeknight (well, any night really) and thus also to its soul-satisfying cred.
2c arborio rice
1/4c olive oil
2c (450g) diced butternut squash
1/4c white wine (optional – if not using, increase broth to 5 1/2c)
5 1/4c chicken broth
150g diced pancetta
2c frozen peas
1/2c grated parmesan
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a deep, heavy-bottomed skillet with a tight-fitting lid, combine rice, oil, squash wine, and 5 cups broth over medium-high heat. Stir once, bring to a boil, then clamp the lid on and transfer to the oven. Cook 25-35 minutes (I find it takes a little longer if you’re using frozen squash), until rice is al dente and broth is mostly absorbed.
While rice is in the oven, cook pancetta cubes in a small heavy skillet until crispy. Drain on paper towel and set aside.
Return rice to stovetop over medium heat. Stir rice well, scraping up any crispy bits that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan; stir in pancetta, peas, and remaining 1/4 cup broth. Cook until peas are just tender, maybe 2-3 minutes. Beat in grated parmesan.
Serve immediately, with a generous grating of black pepper.