Dining

Magic Ingredient

Winter Squash: This ain't no zucchini.

By
November 2008

With winter approaching it's time to swap out lighter fare for a host of soul-warming dishes not seen since the lifts closed. This year, instead of resorting to lasagna or pot roast, satisfy that comfort-food craving with healthy winter squash.

We're not talking about the thin-skinned summer varieties such as zucchini. Winter squash—acorn, butternut, and spaghetti—are hearty, full of beta carotene, and excellent roasted and topped with butter and maple syrup. Unlike their summer siblings, winter varieties have hard seeds and skins. Gary Hanagan, who has been farming the same land for decades in southeastern Colorado, grows a handful of varieties, including spaghetti squash, the bumpy, blue-gray-skinned hubbard, and the largely decorative turban.

With its manageable size, hard green shell, and bright orange flesh, acorn squash remains the most popular, but Hanagan's favorite is the easier-to-peel butternut, which makes a mean soup and, in his opinion, an even better pie than pumpkin. A smooth butternut squash purée turns this risotto from chef Alex Seidel of Fruition into a decidedly decadent affair, especially when topped with braised kale.

RECIPE: Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Braised Kale (Serves 8)

Butternut Squash Purée

  • 2 medium butternut squash
  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped, approximately 1 teaspoon
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350°. Clean the butternut squash under cold water; slice lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Reserve half of one squash for the risotto. Coat the remaining three halves with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and place cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Add a whole shallot to the baking sheet and bake for 45 to 75 minutes or until the squash is very soft to the touch and has a golden color to it. Cool slightly and scoop out the squash pulp. Scoop directly into a blender, then peel the shallot and add it to the blender, along with the fresh thyme, butter, salt, and pepper. Purée until smooth, adding a little water if necessary. The purée should be as thick as possible but still very smooth. Reserve until the risotto is done.

Risotto

  • ½ butternut squash, peeled and cut into medium dice
  • 2 cups carnaroli or Arborio rice
  • ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • salt and white pepper

In a medium pot of boiling salted water, cook diced butternut squash until tender, then drop it in an ice bath to cool. Drain and set aside. Cook rice per package directions. Once the rice has softened to your desired tenderness, add the butternut squash purée, diced butternut squash, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and butter. Season with salt and pepper. When the kale is done (see recipe below), place a healthy portion of the finished risotto onto each plate and serve the braised kale on top.

Braised Kale

  • ½ yellow onion, cut into small dice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound kale, preferably red Russian, washed but still wet, coarsely sliced (with large stems removed)
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • salt and white pepper

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, caramelize onion in the olive oil. Add the kale, cover, and cook down until tender. Finish by deglazing the pan with the sherry vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

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