Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bacon makes everything better

One of the few things my husband Chris really enjoys cooking is risotto. This stems from a book my parents bought him years ago which I feared might offend him but truly, never did - the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" book, which contains some great basic-but-impressive recipes intended to impress and nourish the target audience's female partner. He fixated on the mushroom risotto recipe, which goes through technique step-by-step using plain language, and has made it successfully for our supper countless times.

That said, when I found a half-bag of arborio rice in the pantry last week, I wondered if we might branch out and try a new flavour of risotto this time - I've been seeing recipes for butternut squash risotto for years and wanted to give it a go. I like protein in my dinners, though, so I thought adding bacon might be a nice touch as well. Naturally, when it came time to cook, Chris offered to manage this one, because he is the resident risotto expert, and I was more than happy to play sous-chef for an evening. I prepped the stock and measured out the wine, scooped the roasted squash into a strainer and set it out for him, and he took care of the rest, subbing in the squash for mushrooms and following the rest of his directions to the letter.

We didn't have any white wine in the house but did have some leftover red, so we used that and it was just lovely. And, like I said right off the top, bacon really does make everything better. This is a hearty, wintry risotto, smooth and silky with squash that's been roasted until it slumps, then stirred around with broth and rice until no trace of mealiness remains. The bacon and onions add backbone and smokiness, while the acidity from the wine cuts through the richness of the butter and cheese. It looks (as most risottos do) awful, so do forgive the photo, but it tastes like heaven.

Next time I promised to chop the onion for Chris. It's the least I can do if it nets me a delicious meal like this.

Butternut squash risotto with red wine and bacon
Serves 3 generously as a main, 4 as a starter

1 small butternut squash
4-5 slices thick-cut smoked bacon, diced
1/2 a large sweet onion, diced fine
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup full-bodied red wine
6-8 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F. Halve the squash lengthwise and remove seeds and pulp. Put about 1/2 inch of water in a 9 x 13 baking pan and lay the squash into it, cut sides down. Roast 1 hour; set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a strainer to remove most of the excess liquid. Set squash aside.

Pour the stock into a pot and bring it to a simmer.

In a dutch oven, sauté the bacon over medium-high heat until it renders some of its fat and begins to brown. Add the onion to the pot and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice to the pot and stir 3 minutes or until rice begins to take on a little colour. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until it is mostly absorbed by the rice. Then begin adding stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly as it absorbs into the rice. Once a ladleful of stock is nearly all absorbed add another, and repeat until rice is about half-cooked. Stir in the squash, and continue to add stock by the ladleful until rice is just cooked but still firm. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and cheese. Serve immediately.

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