Our journey through Giada De Laurentiis’ Happy Cooking continues. Much like Julie Powell’s attempts in Julie and Julia to cook her way through Mastering The Art of French Cooking, we have experienced some ups and downs on the road of Italian experimentation (like driving in Napoli itself). However, we have mostly ended up with delectable, mouth-watering meals. After passing Giada’s polenta waffle test with flying colors (well, almost) our score is officially 1 out of 3 (we still have two to go). So now we come to the next recipe on the road to culinary mastery, the Spiced Kabocha Squash Risotto. After all, to mimic Bridget Jones’ self-identification (wanton sex goddess, with a very bad man between her thighs) we are The New Potato (editorial food geniuses, with Giada’s Happy Cooking at our fingertips).
We decided to make this recipe for a last-minute after work dinner. Why? Well, when reading the recipe it appeared it would take a maximum of thirty minutes. So down the risotto-rabbit hole we went. Yeah, it’s a thing.
First things first: Prepping the ingredients. We finely chopped our onions, grated our Parmesan cheese, and measured out the rice and wine. Last but not least, we peeled and cut the kabocha squash. We got out our vegetable peeler and went to town only to find our attempts as futile as sawing through steel with a nail file. How in the world are you supposed to peel these things? A quick Google-search gave us the answer. We had added an unexpected ten minutes to the process but alas, we had peeled and cubed kabocha squash.
We started to cook the squash and according to Giada, we were supposed to add the split and scraped vanilla bean to the cooking liquid. We have to admit, we were highly skeptical about this addition (aren’t vanilla beans reserved for things like Crème Brulee and vanilla ice cream?), but when Giada tells you to do something, you do it.
The next step, which was, ‘sautéing the onions until tender,’ went off without a hitch…kind of. While chatting over the likes of industry events, what happened that weekend, and upcoming story ideas, we may or may not have forgotten about the onions for a moment. Hence, they got a tad brown, but a little added caramelization never hurt anybody, am I right?
Now for the good stuff: The rice. Usually, we aren’t fans of foods that need to be babysat on the stove, but we made an exception for this dish – especially if said babysitting would lead to creamy and perfectly cooked risotto. It took a little longer than twenty minutes for our risotto to absorb the liquid like it was supposed to. Our super fast feast was turning into an hour-long endeavor…
Once we stirred the last bit of grated Parmesan (we added a little extra – it was a long day) all those minutes spent peeling the squash and watching the rice were totally worth it. And, we were wrong, the vanilla bean did add a little something extra to the flavor of the dish. What’s a weeknight if you don’t get to wash away the stress with the creamy goodness that is Giada’s risotto?
Spiced Kabocha Squash Risotto
SERVES 4 AS AN ENTRÉE OR 6 AS A SIDE DISH
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 large vanilla bean
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ medium kabocha squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup finely chopped onion
1½ cups Arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
¾ cup dry white wine
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
In a medium saucepan, warm the broth and 1 cup water over medium-high heat. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and add them, the bean, cinnamon, and cayenne to the broth. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low.
Add the squash to the simmering broth and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the squash to a side dish. Turn the heat on the broth to very low and cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, in a large heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add ½ cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes.
Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of the broth to be absorbed by the rice before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total.
Discard the vanilla bean and turn off the heat Gently stir in the cooked squash, the Parmesan cheese, the remaining tablespoon of butter, and the salt. Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl. Garnish with the parsley and serve immediately.
Sponsored by Crown Publishing Group. Read about our experience cooking Giada’s polenta waffle recipe. Photographed by Alli Shepherd.