Friday, January 04, 2008

Squash risotto and red pepper-mascarpone dip

Last night was a night of firsts! I cooked some things I had never made before, I used a brand-new kitchen gadget, and our friend Sara came over for dinner for the first time (she brought one Josh Le F. with her, but he was old news, having been over before and therefore not a first). As I have mentioned before, I am really not a gadget person but I had been wanting an immersion blender for some time and my dad totally came through on the Christmas present front with a very nice KitchenAid one. So I wanted to try it out and made an interesting dip for appetizer.

Combined one tablespoon of sherry, salt and pepper with 4 roasted red peppers and 2 healthy tablespoons mascarpone cheese in a container appropriate for immersion blending. Got out the immersion blender, marveled at its power tool-like structure and blended hell out of the cheese-pepper mixture. I only used it at a 5 power level, but that sucker will go up to a 9. A 9, y'all! It turns a lovely pastel shade of orange-y red, so this has the added benefit of being a really pretty appetizer as well. Pour into a bowl, sprinkle with some parsley and serve with robust crackers.

I also wanted to make a squash risotto. Actually, that's how plans for dinner started to begin with--I had a couple squash lying around and I thought it might be tasty. I had about 2 pounds worth of small, sweet winter squash. It wasn't my usual favorite kabocha squash, but I wish it had been. I cut them in half, de-seeded, and roasted them until very soft (about 1 hour), then scooped out the flesh and set it aside for later. Begin the risotto itself by sautéing one medium minced onion in 2 tablespoons butter. Don't let them brown at all but get them nice and soft--about 6-8 minutes. Add 2 cloves minced garlic and 1 ½ cups arborio rice. Sauté for 3 minutes--again, do not brown--then begin to add in chicken stock. You will need 5 ½ cups chicken stock and ½ cup white wine, making 6 cups of liquid total. Add the liquid to your rice ½ cup at a time, stirring each ½ cup addition until it is totally absorbed before adding in the next ½ cup. Sara and I discussed this--there is some contention amongst the risotto-producing Italians as to whether one stirs constantly, stirs just occasionally or stirs not at all...but I went ahead and stirred pretty much constantly. For one thing, I think it works well and for another, I sort of enjoy it. It is meditative and fun and everybody is hanging out chatting in the kitchen anyway, so why not? So after you have added in all 6 cups of liquid (you will find it is a bit liquidy at the end, which is fine because you are about to add more stuff in), stir in the roasted squash from earlier, 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage, salt, pepper, and at least 4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese. I actually had too much sage in the one I made last night (probably something like 2 tablespoons or more) but it gave a funny alkaline flavor, so I would say keep it to only 1 tablespoon. I really like sage but I think also that it stands up better to my beloved kabocha squash rather than the (pale, watery) one I was using last night, so that was part of the problem too. The lesson? Never try anything new once you have found your dream squash.

We had these massive porkchops also--they were really thick-cut and juicy. I just seared them 2 at a time, in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat, on my favorite cast-iron skillet, about 4 minutes per side. Then I transferred them to the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes, basically until the internal temperature rose to 160 degrees. I poured any collected juices from the oven dish back into the pan that I had seared the chops in and stirred it around over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons sherry and ½ tablespoon butter, making sure to bring up any delicious porky bits that had stuck to the pan. Added 1 tablespoon minced parsley and used it as a sauce over the porkchops. We also had broccoli rapini that I sautéed and tossed in the juice and zest from 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon capers, salt, pepper, and 3 tablespoons olive oil.

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