Often we open that refrigerator door and stare into the cold void wondering what to make for dinner. Sometimes we have an entrée in mind, but it’s what to serve on the side that stumps many of us.
Ideally a side dish should be something that’s quick to prepare, tasty, satisfying and goes well with many meats, poultry, fish or veggies.
Another requirement for me is that its key ingredients are currently seasonally available.
Edenton Farmers Market, Bunch’s and other farm stands, as well as Food Lion, have an abundance of many varieties of squash right now. From pumpkins to butternut, there are over 100 types of squash that are categorized as both summer and winter varieties.
Squash is usually treated like a vegetable in cooking because of its savory nature, but is technically a fruit. This is because it contains seeds and comes from the flowering part of plants. Other fruits that are treated like vegetables are cucumbers, eggplants and tomatoes.
The butternut squash has become the most popular variety in the U.S. besides the Halloween pumpkin. This squash is a newer variety and is a hybrid created by Charles Leggett of Stow, Massachusetts, in the 1940s. He was not a plant breeder, but wanted to develop a large, good-tasting squash for his family.
This tasty squash is one of my favorites. When combined with one of my go-to quick side dishes of rice it makes a wonderful winter or autumn dish. The rice dish I like when the weather cools down is a warm and hearty risotto.
Made from short-grain arborio rice this dish is actually very light and healthy notwithstanding the carbs in the rice itself. Risotto is made with stock and arborio rice becomes very creamy when it absorbs the cooking liquid. The dish has no cream whatsoever if made correctly and is really quick and easy to prepare and takes no more than 20-30 minutes when made in a nice heavy pot on the stove.
This week I have included my recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto made with roasted butternut squash and sage. It goes well with pork, chicken and a hearty fish like salmon. Roasting the squash creates a nice caramelization for added depth of flavor.
If you have a cooking question contact me at [email protected] and I’d be happy to assist!
• 6 cups butternut squash, diced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• Extra virgin olive oil
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• 8 cups chicken stock, or more as needed
• 1 onion, finely diced
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• Pinch of red pepper flakes
• 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
• ½ cup grated parmesan, or more to taste
• 2 tablespoons fresh sage, julienned
• Salt and pepper to taste
• For the Squash, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine onion and squash on a foil-lined sheet pan, cut to roughly the same size dice. Season and toss with olive oil. Roast for 10-15 minutes. Set aside.
• For the Risotto, heat stock in a pan and keep warm on low heat. In a blender or small food processor puree 2 cups of the squash.
• Heat a large, heavy pan and add oil to coat. Sauté the onion until soft. Add the garlic, and rice, stirring to coat all of the grains. Season with thyme, salt and pepper and cook about a minute.
• Stir in wine and bay leaf, and reduce by half. Stir in the pureed squash.
• Ladle in stock one scoop at a time and stir until absorbed by the rice. Continue until all the stock is absorbed into the mixture and rice is al dente and creamy.
• Add the roasted squash, lightly combining. Stir in parmesan, sage, and parsley. Drizzle with finishing oil and more sage when plating.
Thadd White is Group Editor of the Bertie Ledger-Advance, Chowan Herald, Perquimans Weekly, The Enterprise & Eastern North Carolina Living. He can be reached via email at [email protected].