Food

What’s Cooking at Third Coast? Festive Kale and Squash Risotto

By M.D. Walters

I spent some time exploring traditional Tuscan cuisine recently through Chicago-based culinary travel company, The International Kitchen. I stayed in the tiny and picturesque Vagliagli, a medieval village in the heart of the Chianti region about an hour from Florence.

The grapevines across the area were laden with large purple fruit soon to be harvested, and area markets were offering up fall produce, including organic mushrooms, figs and squash. My local host, Chef Andrea Anichini, shared his traditional menus and techniques, and among my favorite dishes we prepared was a colorful squash and kale risotto. (I’m not a big fan of kale usually, but it was delicious, and you can substitute radicchio if you prefer.)

Risotto is easy to make and preparation goes quickly if you peel, chop and measure out all of your ingredients before starting. Better yet, make your guests an Italian spritzer, lay out a platter of Italian cheeses and meats, and invite them to prep and cook with you as do many families and friends in Italy. This dish can function as an entrée. Or serve it as a side dish if you prefer, with a roasted chicken or other protein.

Preparation time: 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Serves: 6

Ingredients

10 garlic cloves, peeled and each chopped into several large pieces
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
2 cups of fresh kale, washed and dried
1 cup of dry white wine
1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock
1 large butternut squash (about 2.5 cups chopped)
½ cup of freshly grated or shredded Pecorino cheese
1 cup of Arborio rice
Salt and pepper

Preparation

Sauce

  1. Cut the squash in half (long side). Remove the seeds and set aside. Cut the halves into smaller segments so they are easier to work with. Using a knife or vegetable peeler, remove the outer skin from the flesh. Dice the segments into small cubed pieces (about the size of your pinky finger nail). Or substitute packaged cubed butternut squash, available at many stores including Trader Joe’s. Whole Foods and Jewel.
  2. In a medium-sized sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the kale. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes, and set aside.
  3. In a large sauté pan, heat ½ cup of olive oil over medium heat.
  4. Add the chopped garlic. Stirring occasionally, cook the garlic until it just begins to brown and soften.  (about 5-7 minutes)
  5. Add the diced squash to the garlic and oil. Stir and cook on medium heat until the squash becomes tender, but not mushy. (10-15 minutes)
  6. Separate out about 1/3 of the squash and garlic mixture to a deep bowl or other container and blend using an immersion blender.
  7. Combine the blended portion with the remaining garlic and squash combination in the large sauté pan.
  8. Add the sautéed kale, mix and set aside.

Rice 

  1. In a medium-sized pot or sauté pan on medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
  2. Add the rice and stir until it is coated.
  3. Add the white wine. Simmer until the wine is almost absorbed, making sure that the rice doesn’t dry out.
  4. Add 1/2 of the stock and continue to simmer. Stir the risotto frequently. As the rice absorbs the liquid, add the remaining stock. (If more liquid is needed for the rice to fully cook, you can add small amounts of water, wine or stock.)
  5. Continue to stir the risotto until the liquid is absorbed, the rice is tender (or if you prefer, al dente), and begins to look creamy.

Assembly

  1. Add the cooked rice to the squash and kale sauce, stir and heat thoroughly on low.
  2. Add the Pecorino cheese and gently fold it into the risotto.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For some useful tips on the perfect sauce, choosing a chianti and making the most of those squash seeds, check out our other article in Third Coast Review.

M.D. Walters is a lover of all things Chicago, a lifelong foodie, and a global culinary explorer.

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