Well the clock is ticking. Turkey defrosting in your frig? I pick up mine tonight: local, humanely raised and incredibly fresh from MOB Farms. I may be a vegetarian, but I just can’t help getting excited about the challenge and tradition surrounding the Thanksgiving turkey. Last year was so special—my first local bird… all 24 pounds of her! This year, after a discussion with Shawn Mullens, who is part of the MOB Farms operation and an herb grower at the Land of Goshen Community Market, I opted for a wild turkey, somewhat gamier in taste and a smaller, leaner bird.
But what I’m really here to talk about is squash, a new-to-me squash called Kabocha (aka Japanese Pumpkin). Mine is a gorgeous, russet-colored orb called “Sunshine” that I bought early in the fall from Bruce Haas at Daydream Farm. Kabocha is super sweet and will make the perfect roasted bowls for my pumpkin, lemon and rosemary risotto (Supposedly, you can even eat Kabocha’s skin!). If you are looking for an “Ooooo and Ahhhhh” dish to impress on Thursday, this might be it. Not that hard to make, but it is a last-minute kind of thing because of the risotto. So pull in those troops and have someone help you mind the risotto while you get that turkey to the table.
Following the recipe, I have some tips on preparing the squash and making the risotto. I’ve also included a few links to Delicious Living Magazine’s 2016 fall recipes to give you a couple more cooking ideas. And then there is my annual plea to shop local… humor me… and please keep reading!
- Two medium Kabocha squash (red or green, doesn’t matter)
- Olive oil
- Coarse sea salt
- Six cups vegetable stock (Homemade or commercial will work, but keep in mind that commercial is usually saltier, so adjust to taste accordingly.)
- One medium yellow onion, minced
- Two tablespoons olive oil
- Four tablespoons unsalted butter (half stick), divided two and two
- One-half cup pumpkin puree (Used all the pumpkin in your pie? You could use a half-cup of dry white wine or sherry. You’ll still add flavor, without really altering the rest of the recipe significantly.)
- One and one-half cups Arborio rice (The rice matters here; do not substitute other varieties.)
- One tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
- Zest of one large lemon (While I thought it would be the pumpkin and the rosemary that really stepped up the flavor of the risotto, in truth it was the lemon that did it for me—such a great compliment to the sweet-salty flavor of the roasted squash, so think LARGE lemon.)
- One-half cup cheese, such as Parmigiano Reggiano or a sharp white cheddar
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Scrub your squash with a stiff vegetable brush to remove all dirt and debris from the field. Slice in half horizontally and scoop out the seeds to form four “bowls.” Brush liberally with olive oil, season liberally with salt and place cut-side down on a greased, rimmed cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until the squash is tender but not caving in. Turn off the oven and allow the squash to stay warm until you are ready to serve the risotto. If you need your oven for other things—like last-minute rolls—remove the squash from the oven and wrap in foil to keep warm.
- For the risotto, make sure your stock is simmering steadily over low heat before you begin.
- Heat the oil and two tablespoons of the butter in a large heavy skillet. Add the minced onion and sauté until tender and translucent, about three to four minutes.
- Using a large wooden spoon, stir in the rice and cook for one to two minutes so that the rice can slightly toast. Then, add the pumpkin puree. The pumpkin may incorporate easier into the rice if you whisk it with a little warm stock before adding to the skillet. Stir constantly until the pumpkin and the rice are well blended. If you opted for wine or sherry instead of pumpkin puree, cook until the alcohol is absorbed, about one to two minutes.
- Begin to ladle in your stock, one-half cup at a time, stirring it frequently until it is absorbed by the rice. Repeat this process for the next 30 to 40 minutes, until you’ve used up the stock, slowly letting each addition be absorbed by the rice before adding more. (Taste test your rice as you near the end of this process; you want creamy cooked rice with a chewy consistency--al dente, not undercooked and hard or overcooked and mushy.)
- Remove the skillet from the heat and vigorously stir in the second two tablespoons of butter, giving the rice air and extra creaminess. Now add the cheese and continue to beat for one minute, until the cheese is melted. Finish with the addition of the lemon zest and the minced rosemary.
- Assemble the squash bowls on a large serving platter with rim and fill with risotto. Serve immediately.
Timing on Turkey Day
Prepping this entire dish will take an hour or less. It is a very good idea to have everything assembled before you begin. The squash will take about 40 minutes to cook, just a little less time than your risotto, which takes about 45 minutes total once its ingredients are assembled and the stock is hot and ready to go. So I suggest starting the squash slightly ahead of the risotto; it takes minimal attention and, once done, it will stay warm in the oven or wrapped in the foil for a bit and will be easier to handle when you fill it with the risotto. Risotto, on the other hand, should be served immediately, so you’ll want to head right to the table once it is done.
My inspiration for and my confidence to pull off this risotto comes from my favorite Italian chef Jack Bishop. Like many people, I always assumed risotto was difficult and better left to the masters, but Chef Bishop gave me incentive to be brave in the kitchen. The key to risotto is patience. Make sure your stock is hot, that no more than a half-cup of stock is added at one time (My large soup ladle is perfect for this process—the right size and shape for transferring the stock to the skillet.) and that you allow it to be completely absorbed by the rice before adding more. According to Chef Bishop, risotto does need fairly constant attention but not constant stirring (and only with a wooden spoon, BTW, because the rice will stick to metal.). You can be busy in the kitchen while cooking risotto, but you must be IN the kitchen and stirring frequently. Experience breeds confidence, which is no surprise. So check out Chef Bishop’s amazing recipes for risotto—there are 18 in my cookbook—and be brave.
Need a few more ideas? As always, Delicious Living Magazine has gone all out with great recipe ideas for the holidays that are as good for you as they are good to eat. In their latest issue, there’s an amazing recipe for Hearty Kale and Chicken Salad with Honey Roasted Fig Balsamic Dressing. I’m planning to borrow the scrumptious dressing idea for my own fall salad of baby spinach, diced red onion, chopped green apple, goat cheese, dried cranberries, fresh pomegranate seeds and toasted pecans. I think it will be perfect.
Got some dietary challenges at your table? I have mine—several meat-eaters will sit side-by-side with vegetarians, one of whom is a must-be-gluten-free child. I’m eyeing Delicious Living’s Pumpkin Pie with Walnut Crust for my can-eat-everything diners and preparing my own Granola Bar Pumpkin Pudding Squares for the gluten-free guests. Everybody gets their piece of pumpkin pie, one recipe or another!
Still interested in more risotto? Delicious Living also published a pumpkin inspired version: Pumpkin-Chardonnay Mushroom Risotto. Doesn’t that sound good! I’ll be trying it. Let me know if you do, too.
Just like last year, I’m putting in a good word for all my local vendors and independent restaurant and gallery owners. When Friday rolls around, consider sleeping in, letting the computer have the day off, playing with your kids, walking your dog, listening to music, watching old movies while munching some cold turkey and pumpkin pie, and hugging everyone within arm’s length. Call long-distant friends just to say hi, deliver leftovers to a neighbor, take your mom to breakfast if she cooked Thanksgiving for you. Share, care and be there.
Then, on Small Business Saturday, November 26, head out to find some local treasures at the small stores in your town. The big box stores and online retailers will never miss you. But the merchants, farmers, artists and chefs down the street will be forever grateful. You’ll find more unique, thoughtful gifts and will probably make new friends.
A Freezer Full of Thanks
This leaves only one thing from me, I think: gratitude. And I am grateful. For everyone who reads this blog and in some way finds it helpful and inspiring. For my family and my friends, my farmers and the wonderful food they grow. And… yes…once again…for my beautiful little freezer, now brimming with local produce that will feed my family, keep us true to local eating, help us stay healthy and help me bravely pursue new culinary heights. Happy Thanksgiving everybody!