Butternut Squash & Mushroom Risotto

A gentle snowfall is the perfect backdrop for some pleasant kitchen time today. I’ve got a warm cup of fresh nettle tea in my hands and a batch of blondies is in the oven. The last few weeks have been frigid enough to drive me toward hibernation. All I want to eat is comfort food: macaroni and cheese, bagels, soup… and winter squash. I have been putting it in everything! Since we already geeked out about the squash family when we made zucchini pickles, this time we will learn about the other star of today’s recipe.

Button mushrooms – be they white, crimini, baby bella, etc. – are all the same species. When these guys grow up, they become portabellos! They are native to the temperate grasslands of Europe and North America and can still be foraged today (if you know what you are doing! As a Croatian proverb says, “All mushrooms are edible. Some only once.”). Commercial mushroom cultivation is an enormous industry in the U.S., particularly in Pennsylvania. In 2011, Americans consumed more than 1.2 billion pounds of mushrooms (I believe I may have played a significant role there). They are high in B vitamins and copper, and remain a fat-free food until you fry them in olive oil or butter.  Mmmm.  My favorite.

Adapted from The Complete Italian Vegetarian by Jack Bishop

¼ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
10 oz. mushrooms, quartered
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh sage, finely chopped
1.5 cups Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
6 cups vegetable stock
1 cup parmesan cheese
½ cup nutritional yeast (for a dairy free dish, exclude parmesan and increase nutritional yeast to a full cup)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley, chopped or crispy fried sage leaves for garnish

1. In a medium pot or a very large skillet, sauté the garlic and onion in oil over medium heat, until soft.
2.  Stir in chopped thyme and sage and cook for about one minute, when the aromas of the herbs shoud really begin to jump out.

3. Add the mushrooms and cook for five more minutes, stirring occasionally.  If you wish for the mushrooms to retain their body, it is best to sauté them separately later on and stir them into the finished risotto.  However, there is nothing wrong with letting them simmer in the dish starting now, as their flavors will make their way into the rice magnificently.
4.  Raise the heat to medium-high and stir in the squash.  Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine and one cup of the broth, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cover the pot and cook until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes. The squash should absorb the liquid by the time it cooks through, but not stick to the pot.  Watch carefully and add more broth if needed.

5.  Remove lid. Over medium-low heat, add the rice and stir to coat.  If desired, allow it to toast slightly before adding one more cup of broth.  Stir regularly until the rice has absorbed the liquid.  Repeat with the remaining cups of broth. This takes about 20-30 minutes. The rice should be “creamy and soft but still a bit al dente.” If too tacky, continue the process with extra broth or hot water.

6. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan and/or nutritional yeast.  If you waited on your mushrooms, stir them in now as well.  Add salt and pepper to taste, though most broths and parmesan are already so salty that you won’t need any more sodium.

7.  Top with chopped fresh parsley or crispy fried sage leaves.  I served this dish with arugula salad and caprese.