Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stormy Comforts - squash & mushroom risotto

We're in for another snow storm. It seems like we're getting snowed in once a week so far this year. I don't really mind - I've needed some good time by myself at home these days. I've been going through too long a season of transitions. I needed some space to get myself grounded again. For me that space is always standing in front of the stove. When I'm cooking I'm finally somewhere where I can think clearly, get rebalanced, and really feel like I'm doing something just for myself. When I really need some quiet time I turn to risotto.

Risotto is a beautifully simple dish with one of my favorite qualities in a food - lots of flexibility. I'm always trying new ways of making things. Tweaking recipes forever. It's not always a success, but it's always inspiring. This time I'm adding squash to my normal mushroom risotto. I was thinking about making a soup when I bought the squash but today is a risotto kind of day.

The bright orange dices looked so pretty on my cutting board that I ran my hands through the little pieces. I reach in and breathe in a handful. My squash smells like carving a pumpkin as a kid. When the gourd is still huge, bigger than your whole head, looming over you on the table making your eyes widen at the monumental task ahead. When your whole arm fits inside as you get to scoop out the slime and seeds. It's the first time you are allowed to use a knife on your own. It's your first moment of a food being an adventure. It smells clean and sweet like dew on grass.

The thing is... you have to put your whole face into a bowl of freshly sliced flesh to even get a waft of it. The fragrance disappears after only a sniff or two, like a flower who's pollen has been smelt away. It will stop you in your tracks for a moment if you catch it. I'm so glad that today was reminded to stop and notice my ingredients. I'm sorry for all the memories and stories my food had been trying to tell me that I've missed.

Have you ever cooked with something just because it's so pretty? I do that sometimes with mushrooms. Add pretty mushrooms just for the joy of using them. I can admit that this dish is easily overpowering for an oyster mushroom. I really should have saved them for a simple broth soup or something, but they smelled like Jacobsburg Park after the rain in the Fall and I couldn't resist them.

Though they don't have much aroma to speak of - for flavor I think baby portabella mushrooms are just perfect for winter cooking. Sauteed with thyme and butter they are the perfect hearty nuggets to fold into your risotto.

Risotto is one of my go to dishes. Even if it does need to be stirred constantly for 30-40 minutes it's simple and creamy and therapeutic to make. There are many debates on how to make risotto (as any honorable dish with such a long tradition should have), but I'm sure I'll be writing about it again soon, so that can wait for another time. For now - the mushrooms and thyme are always a success. The squash? Well I think I'm going to try roasting it next time for more flavor and I need to caramelize the onions further too. But just because an experiment isn't a full-blown success doesn't mean it's not an experience still worth writing about. I promise when I get it just right I'll give you a recipe.

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