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Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 04:54 pm

Flavors of fall

Butternut squash risotto is quintessential seasonal comfort food

As welcome as the first warm spring breeze after a frigid winter, crisp fall temperatures have arrived. Even when daytime temperatures rival those in mid-August, the heat isn’t as oppressive. The humidity is lower, and the cool evenings come quickly.

The foods and flavors of autumn are also a welcome shift. Suddenly a steaming bowl of stew, chilli, or soup is more appealing than a tomato stuffed with chicken salad. A caramel apple satisfies better than does a cold slice of watermelon. The Farmers’ Market and farm stands are overflowing with fall’s bounty: lettuces and other greens such as collards, mustard, turnip, and, spinach; root vegetables; pears, grapes, plums, and an astonishing variety of apples; kohl crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts; and pumpkins, gourds, and hard shell squashes are all at their peak right now.

Here are two recipes that celebrate the harvest season. Both dishes take advantage of the vegetables’ natural sugars by calling for browning (caramelizing), which adds depth of flavor. The first is really more a method than an actual recipe and can be used with just a single root vegetable or as many as you desire. Using a combination of different colored vegetables makes the finished dish especially attractive. One small warning: When using several different vegetables, it’s easy to end up with much more than you intended — it just seems to grow! If that happens, don’t worry. Leftovers reheat well and make an especially good brunch dish of vegetable hash topped with poached eggs.

The butternut squash risotto is quintessential fall comfort food. It makes an excellent vegetarian main course but can also be topped with seared sea scallops or used as a first course or side dish.

Send questions and comments to Julianne Glatz at realcuisine@insightbb.com.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Rosemary

Assorted root vegetables: onions (pearl onions work well), beets, whole peeled garlic cloves, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, sweet potatoes (or substitute butternut squash), or celery root
Extravirgin olive oil
Chopped fresh rosemary
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

Plan on 1 to 1 1/2 cup per serving. Preheat oven to 375°. Cut vegetables into pieces about the same size. The pieces may be 1 1/2 inches or smaller, depending on your preference. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper for easier cleanup. Put the vegetables in a single layer on the baking sheet. Toss with enough oil to just barely coat. Sprinkle with the chopped rosemary, salt, and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until the vegetables are tender and lightly caramelized. Stir several times during baking. Roasting time depends on the size of the vegetable pieces.

Butternut Squash Risotto

1 1/2 to 2 pounds of butternut squash
Olive oil
1 1/2 cup Arborio or carnaroli rice
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, plus a little
additional if needed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup finely diced onion (not supersweet)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or rosemary
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 to 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or aged Asiago cheese
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Chopped flat-leaf parsley or minced sage leaves
for garnish, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Brush the cut edge of one squash half lightly with olive oil and place, cut side down, on a nonstick baking sheet. Peel the other squash half and cut into half-inch cubes. Toss with just enough olive oil to barely coat and scatter in a single layer on the baking sheet with the squash half. Put the baking sheet in the oven and roast, stirring the squash cubes occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the squash half can be easily pierced with a knife and the cubes are done and lightly caramelized. Cooking times are roughly equal for the half and the cubes. Remove the pan from the oven and set the cubes aside. When cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh from the squash half and mash, then stir into the stock along with the salt. Heat the stock/squash mixture and keep warm while cooking the risotto.

In a large heavy pan, heat the butter over medium high heat and add the onion and sage or rosemary. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened and translucent, but not browned, three to five minutes. Add the rice and cook a few minutes more until the rice has absorbed most of the butter and has become somewhat translucent. Add the wine and continue to stir until the wine is almost completely absorbed. Reduce the heat to medium low and add enough of the stock mixture to cover the rice by about 1 inch. Cook at a very low simmer, stirring frequently. As the liquid is absorbed, add additional stock to keep the rice covered. When all of the stock mixture has been absorbed, check the rice. It should be cooked through but still firm to the tooth, al dente. If it’s not done, add a little more stock. Cooking time should be about 30 minutes. Add the reserved squash cubes and heat through. Stir in the cheese and pepper. Check the seasoning. Serve immediately, garnished with minced sage or rosemary. Serves four to six.

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