A Fall recipe: Butternut Squash Risotto with Fontina Fonduta

It’s warm and creamy and delicious … keep reading you will love it!

Today I am giving you a break from my Italy trip journal and I am sharing one of my favorite Fall dish: Risotto di zucca con fonduta di Fontina (Butternut squash risotto with Fontina cheese sauce).

Fontina is a typical cheese from the Italian region of Valle d’Aosta. Fonduta is a variation of the classic cheese Fondue.

It ‘s a classic Italian pumpkin risotto in which I substituted the pumpkin with butternut squash. Also, while in a typical risotto recipe you add butter at the end to “mantecare” (final step to make it creamy), I added Fontina cheese sauce instead.

I did not inherited this recipe, I don’t  remember my mother ever using pumpkin in a recipe. My mom was from Naples and the Risotto alla zucca (pumpkin risotto) is typical of Northern Italy so, although she wasn’t opposed to recipes out of her comfort zone, zucca was not in her repertoire. I honestly don’t particularly enjoy the pumpkin’s taste myself; I find it too sweet. However, I have been substituting pumpkin with butternut squash in all pumpkin based recipes (including pumpking gnocchi and pumpkin ravioli) and my family and I enjoy its milder and nuttier flavor.

In a previous post I told you that risotto is one of my favorite dish to prepare and I have shared the recipe of my Shrimp Risotto. I also explained that risotto is a way of preparing riso (rice) rather than a recipe and I have mentioned that the variety of rice you use will affect the recipe. The best rice for risotto is the Vialone Nano, which belongs to the semifino variety. This variety has medium long grains and it has a good ability to release the starch that ensures the creaminess of the risottoCarnaroli and Arborio, both in the ultrafino variety, are good alternatives.

One of my brother’s client in Novara – one of the main area of rice production in Italy – asked me to test a Vialone Nano of his production. The name is ECORÌ and it is an eco-friendly rice.

I tried the rice and I liked it; it cooked nicely and the final product was very creamy. The problem is that I doubt I will find this rice in my area so: “dear friend at ECORÌ, I would love a case of rice!”

Ricetta

Risotto alla zucca con fonduta di Fontina

Cosa serve ( What you need) for 4 people

For the risotto

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 medium onion finely chopped

1 shallot finely chopped

2 cups rice – Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Arborio

1 butternut squash peeled seeded and cubed (about 1-1/2 pound)

1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt

Black pepper

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

6 cups vegetable broth

For the fonduta

2 oz. Fontina cheese cubed

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper

Cosa fare (What to do)

First prepare the fonduta. While you are preparing the fonduta, bring 6 cups of vegetable broth to boil and keep it hot; you will use it for the risotto.

  • Melt the butter in a saucepan over the low heat, and whisk in the flour until well blended.

  • Slowly add the milk, whisking until the mixture thickens slightly.

  • Add the Fontina, the Parmigiano- Reggiano, and the nutmeg and stir until to combine. The result has to be smooth, silky, and slightly thick sauce.

  • Season with salt and pepper, cover the sauce with plastic wrap and set aside.

Preparing the risotto.

  • In a heavy-bottom pan, heat the oil and  half butter with the onion and the shallot.

  • Once the onion has softened add the butternut squash, salt, and pepper and cook until the squash cooks to a purée.

  • Move the purée around the sides of the pan to create a large hot spot in the middle. Add the remaining butter and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the bits of squash.
  • Add the  rice to the pan and toss to coat with the butter.

  • When the rice is translucent, add the wine and stir until the wine evaporates. At the same time start incorporating the purée into the rice. Start adding 1/2 cup of hot broth at the time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

  • Continue adding the broth 1/2 cup at the time, stirring constantly.

  • Taste the rice for texture and seasoning, it should be al dente, tender but not mushy.
  • When the rice is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the fonduta until it is all blended with the risotto. Add 2 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Regiano and give it one more stir.

  • Plate into individual bowls, top with Parmigiano and garnish with fried sage leaves (oops, I burned my sage so I used a fresh leaf instead!).

As promised here it is my perfect Risotto, warm, creamy, flavorful and delicious . . . buon appetito!

Which one is your favorite Fall recipe?

Related post: If it’s Friday . . . it’s Pesce!

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If it’s Friday. . . it’s Pesce!

My Risotto ai Gamberi!

Last week I had tweeted this picture and I promised that I would have followed up with a post, so here I am, as promised.

Risotto ai gamberi (Risotto with shrimp) is one of my favorite dish to prepare. It is comforting and fresh at the same time, perfect for Spring.  To me it represents the fusion of Northern and Southern Italy, a good example of Mediterranean diet and just simple goodness.

Risotto is a way of preparing riso (rice) rather than a recipe. The archetype of risotto is “Risotto alla Milanese“, you know. . .  that wonderful yellow risotto – with zafferano (saffron) – that is always married to the “Ossobuco“.

Although the Northern Regions of Lombardia and Piemonte are the capitals of rice, the use of the rice in cooking started in Naples (yes, I know I am biased!) where it was brought by the Spaniards in the fourteenth century. The Neapolitan, however, rapidly became “mangiamaccheroni” (pasta eater) and the rice soon travelled North. In Northern Italy, in particular in the wet Valle del Po (Po Valley), the cultivation of rice found the perfect environment. The immage of the flooded risaie (rice field) are quite impressive.

In 1949, the Italian movie Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice), nominated for the 1950 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Story, was shot in the countryside and rice-fields of the Po Valley. The story deals with the vicissitudes of the mondine (rice-weeders).

Yet, how can we forget the Sartù? It is one of the richest and elaborated piatti (dish), based on rice, of the traditional Neapolitan cuisine. In the ‘700, Naples was ruled by the French Royal House of Bourbons. The chefs of the Royal French Court developed this recipe; its original French name was Sur-Tout which then became Sartù.

 The Sartù is a sort of rice dome stuffed with meatballs, sausage, peas, mushrooms, boiled eggs, mozzarella and more. . . my husband’s grandmother – nonna Lucia –  used to make it and my husband still rave about it. I am not ready yet for this elaborated preparation but I promised myself that one day I shall try. I will keep you posted.

Back to the rice, there are different varieties of rice: riso tondo or comune (round rice or common), riso fino (fine-rice or rice up), riso semifino (semi-fine rice), riso ultrafino (grain rice, super fine).

The variety of rice you use will affect the recipe. The best rice for risotto is the Vialone Nano, which belongs to the semifino variety. Arborio and Carnaroli, both in the ultrafino variety, are good alternatives.

Carnaroli and Arborio

The Vialone Nano has medium long grains and it has a good ability to release the starch that ensures the creaminess of the risotto. The Arborio and Carnaroli have large and long grain and release less starch.

Once you master the art of preparing the basic risotto, you can let your imagination fly and create any combination you like. I am from Southern Italy and yet, Risotto is one my favorite dish. I make risotto with anything I fancy and anything that it is in season: asparagus, radicchio, lemon, beans, zucchini, potatoes, peas, artichokes, mushroom, butternut squash, safron, gorgonzola cheese, cuttlefish ink, seafood. . . and of course with shrimp!

In my recipe, Risotto, the most typical preparation of Northern Italy, meets the flavor of the Mediterranean Sea and the culture of fish of Southern Italy . . .what better combination!

So here it is, for yet another meatless Friday (or meatless Monday), I give you My Risotto ai Gamberi. This recipe is my own, I have experimented through the years and although it is not the canonic recipe, it is my family’s favorite. To me, that’s all that matters. I hope you will give it a try, I am sure you will love it!

Ricetta Risotto ai Gamberi

Risotto with shrimp

Ingredients for 4 people

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

4 tbsp unsalted butter

1 medium onion finely chopped

2 cups rice – Vialone Nano, Carnaroli or Arborio (Carnaroli is what I had on hand)

20 medium/large shrimp

1/2 cup dry white wine (I also like to use Marsala wine which will make the dish slightly sweeter)

1/4 cup heavy cream

fresh parsley (or few sage leaves)

For the broth

4 -1/2 cups of cold water

2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

shrimp skin and heads (also tails if you decide to remove them)

1/2 medium onion roughly chopped

1 leek sliced

2 tsp tomato paste

few black pepper grain

salt

Directions

Start with the broth.

Peel the shrimp and remove the head. I like to leave the tail but you can remove it if you want. In a sauce pan heat 2 tsp of extra-virgin olive oil and add the skins and heads (and tails) of the shrimp. Add the onion and leek, stir to coat with oil. Add the cold water, the black pepper grains, and the 2 teaspoons of tomato paste.  Stir to dissolve the tomato paste, this will give the risotto a pretty pink color. Bring to boil and let simmer for 20 minutes, add salt to taste and keep it warm.

Meanwhile devein the shrimp.

In a heavy-bottom pan, heat the oil and 2 tbsp of butter with the onion. Once the onion has softened add the shrimp and and cook on both side until they had taken on color. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set them aside keeping them warm.

Take eight (8) of the shrimp and transfer into the bowl of a food processor, add 1/4 cup of broth and purée the shrimp. Add 1/4 cup of heavy cream and blend together. Set aside.

Add a 1 tbsp of butter and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the bits of shrimp. Add the  rice to the pan and toss to coat with the oil/butter. When the rice is translucent, add the wine and stir until the wine evaporates.

Strain the broth and start adding 1/2 cup at the time, stirring with a wooden spoon, until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding the broth 1/2 cup at the time, stirring constantly.

After about 15 minutes, add the shrimp purée and the whole shrimp. Stir to combine and continue cooking and stirring for additional 2-3 minutes while keeping adding the broth as necessary.

Taste the rice for texture and seasoning, it should be al dente, tender but not mushy.

When the rice is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the remaining butter, this last step is called mantecare, which I cannot really translate but it makes the risotto perfetto (perfect), so don’t skip it!

Spoon your risotto into serving bowl, sprinkle with freshly grounded pepper and top it with fresh prezzemolo (parsley) – which is typical –  or, as I did, just decorate with a fresh, small foglia di salvia (sage leaf).

Isn't pretty?

Eat it right away!

Spring is on the corner. . . green peas are calling!

The warm days leading to Primavera (Spring) are here and this wonderful season comes with a basket full of fresh produce. While it is true that it is possible to find almost any produce all year long either frozen, grown in greenhouses or coming from somewhere on earth, there is not better satisfaction than using seasonal, local ingredients.

Which one amongst produce speak to you about Spring? To me is piselli (green peas)! How can I forget  when as a child, on my mom side, I was helping to shell the piselli freschi (fresh green peas)! And when a very tiny one would come out of the pod,  I would eat it just like that, raw. . . and I can still taste the sweetness of it.

I definitely associate certain dishes with Spring. One is the Agnello di Pasqua (Easter Lamb), baked with green peas and potatoes, and another one is definitely the pasta e piselli (pasta and green peas).

My other Spring favorites are carciofi (artichokes) and asparagi ( asparagus).

Two nights ago, the warm weather and a trip to the grocery store reminded me that it was no longer time for stew, polenta, and soup but it was time to switch – just like your wardrobe- to the Spring menu.

And guess what? A basket of fresh green peas was before my eyes, just waiting for me, and I immediately knew what was going to be on my dinner table : pasta e piselli, of course!

Before I give out my recipe, there is something I should confess. To my complete disappointment, once I started shelling the fresh green peas I soon realized that they were not very good; the peas inside the pods (except for a handful) didn’t have the bright green color that you would expect, they were pale and hard. After the initial discontent, I got over the fact that I couldn’t actually use the fresh spring green peas that I was longing for, but I had to rely on the bag of frozen organic sweet peas that was in my freezer. Except for my personal disappointment the final product was delicious anyway.

For the most part, this is the traditional recipe of pasta e piselli like my mom used to make. I have added, however, few unconventional elements: the snow peas for crunchiness and the fresh mint for aroma and freshness. I also puréed part of the green peas to achieve some creaminess.

I hope you will enjoy it. Oh, and did I mention that you can add this dish to your meatless Friday (or Monday) and to your Mediterranean diet’s recipe book?

Which is your favorite Spring recipe? Do you usually make an effort to use seasonal, local ingredients?

RICETTA PASTA E PISELLI

Ingredients for 4 persons

2-3/4 cups mezzi ditalini tubetti pasta (My preferred brand is De Cecco)

2 pounds of fresh green peas (this should yield to 2 or 2-1/2 cups of unshelled peas)

OR 1 bag of frozen sweet peas

1/2 onion finely sliced

1 slice of ham 1/4 inch thick and cut into short strips (I use grilled Tuscan cooked ham). You can also use pancetta cubed into 1/2 inch pieces.

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

4 cups vegetables broth (warm)

10 snow peas

few leaves of fresh mint

Directions

If using frozen peas:

1)  To defrost the peas I place them in a colander and I set the colander under cold running water for few minutes. Transfer half of the peas to a food processor, start pulsing, add a little broth and run the food processor to purée the peas. Set aside.

2) In a heart ware pot heat the oil with the onion and the ham. Add some salt and cook until the ham is golden. Add the snow peas and the whole peas and stir to combine the flavors.

3) Add the peas purée and stir to combine. Add few leaves of mint (save 4 for presentation).

4) Cook few more minutes then add 3 cups of the broth. Add salt, pepper  and cooking on medium heat, bring to boil. add the pasta and cook for the required time (if more liquid is needed add the remaining broth). Make sure you stir frequently so the pasta doesn’t stick together and do not over cook the pasta, it must be al dente!

4) Before spooning into individual plate remove the mint’s leaves (once they are cooked the color is not appealing). Plate the pasta and right before serving decorate with a small leaf of fresh mint. If you desire you can drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.

Doesn’t just the color of this dish tell you that is Spring?

Wow, this dish is quite green. Italian twist on St. Patrick’s day anyone?

NOTE: if you are using fresh peas, during step 2 will shall add all the unshelled peas. You will skip step 3. In step 4 you will cook the peas for 15 minutes then spoon off 1/2 of the peas, purée them in the food processor and then transfer back into the pan. Cook 5 more minutes, bring to boil and then follow the directions for cooking the pasta.