Okay, so do y’all remember a few weeks ago when Bishop busted into the room at like 2am to tell me about this great food idea he had been dreaming about? Butternut squash and kale pasta with a garlicky white sauce.
Doesn’t matter. We finally made it. With a few twists.
It was absolutely amazing. Thick. Creamy. Delicious.
It also reminded me why I don’t cook risotto very often. I’m not going to lie. This one is a wee bit time consuming and needs to be babied. But it was totally worth it.
There are also a few steps you could take that would make it even better. Like using stock instead of water. Adding the chili powder to the squash. Or actually remembering to put the basil in.
But even with all of my culinary shortcomings, it was nothing short of amazing.
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- olive oil and/or butter for the pan
- rope sausage, cubed
- half of a butternut squash, cubed
- portobello mushrooms, one package
- kale, shredded, any variety
- garlic, minced (dry and fresh)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- water or stock
- chili powder
- dried minced onion or a shallot
- arborio rice
- basil or other fresh herbs
- milk or cream
- ricotta cheese
- parmesan cheese, grated
You’ll notice there aren’t a lot of measurements. This is for two reasons. First, I think cooking and seasoning should be something that you feel. Respond to the color, taste, and smell of your food in your kitchen. Second, I have a single cast iron skillet that dictates the amount that I can make at any given time. If I was still in my sticks and bricks house with all of my kitchen tools, I would have made a much larger portion of this.
You’ll want a large portion of this.
If you’re using a cast iron skillet, go ahead and turn the flame on to about medium-ish. You want the pan nice and warm but not too hot when start adding things. Sizzle, not burn. I wish I could be more precise here but the temperature levels have all been worn off of my burner controls. It keeps life interesting.
Okay, so we start with the sausage. We chose a rope style garlic beef sausage. You can use anything you like. I cubed it up to about the same size as my butternut squash. I like for my bites to be similarly sized. If you want bigger or smaller bites, go with what you feel.
After the sausage is good and browned, remove it to some paper towels on a plate to drain. I left as much fat in the pan as possible but still needed to drizzle a little olive oil in before adding the butternut squash.
Tip: Peel and cube up your butternut squash before you intend to use it. I don’t know why but this step always takes forever and this recipe is long enough on its own. I’ve trained the kids to peel and cube a butternut squash at the beginning of every week so it’s on hand and easy to toss into quick meals like quesadillas.
This is where you should sprinkle your squash with chili powder. I didn’t because I was distracted. I added it in with the liquid addition later and it turned out fine, but it would have been even better here.
Once your squash is tender and looking a little soft around the edges but not falling apart, pull it out of the pan and set it aside. I keep a large bowl next to the stove to collect all of my vegetables.
Do you see all that yumminess on the bottom of the pan? It’s about to get even better. Don’t worry, you won’t be scraping it off later. If you do it right, all of that becomes part of the soft and the bottom of your pan is perfectly clean.
Stay with me here. We started with sausage grease. Then we added olive oil. Now we’re tossing in a good sized knob of butter. I can not give you a measurement for this. Feel the butter in your soul. Now add a little more.
Oh! And the mushrooms! I was distracted by all that glorious butter. I also turn the heat way down during this step. You want the butter coating and bubbling up around those mushrooms until they are done. This is also where I remembered to add salt and pepper. The mushrooms are going to go through a dry, wet, dry phase before they’re done.
That sounds weird, right? But trust me. Dry, wet, dry. Just watch them and you’ll know when they’re perfect.
Quick! Add your kale, garlic, and another pinch of salt. Stir it around with the mushrooms and butter. As soon as it wilts, add it to the veggie bowl with the butternut squash. It’s time to cook the risotto.
This is where it would have been really nice to have a shallot. I would have tossed in another knob of butter, sauteed the shallot, and then added the rice to brown for a minute in all that numminess.
I did not have a shallot. I know. Thank you. I was really broken up about it too. Next time.
I gave the pan another tiny drizzle of olive oil, turned it back up to medium-ish, and tossed in a cup and a half of arborio rice. You might need more or less depending on your pan and family size but a cup and half is a good place to start. I also added a good spoonful each of the dried, minced garlic and onion.
Oh! And I must stress the arborio rice. Regular rice doesn’t work here. It has something to do with starches. Basically arborio rice is so starchy and absorbent that it takes your cooking liquid and makes its own roux.
I’m getting ahead of myself. The reason we toss the rice in with the oil is to toast it. But only for a minute. Would it work without toasting? I don’t know. It’s like the old Rice-a-Roni boxes. It says to stir and toast so we stir and toast. I’m sure it’s about developing complex flavors or something but honestly, I’ve just always done it so I probably always will.
There, that’s been a minute. Pour in your first cup of liquid.
This is your self reflection step. Did you just pour in a cup of water? Were you ready for action with prepared stock from the store? Did you lovingly ladle freshly made, warm stock from a second pot on your stove? It doesn’t matter. You’re a busy mom or dad with hungry kids. Work with what you’ve got; it’s going to be delicious anyway.
Essentially we’re going to stir around the rice until it absorbs the liquid and then add another cup. At first, it absorbs it super fast. Each cup takes a little longer. I also remembered that I forgot the chili powder and added that here too. Then I poured in my second cup of water.
After three cups of water, I tasted the rice. I probably could have done four cups but the rice was mostly soft with just a little grit so I figured it was mostly done. Once your rice gets to this point, add a cup of milk or cream. I went with milk because it was what I had on hand. I also sprinkled in a little more chili powder because…why not? Also, this would be a great place to add little strips of fresh basil. Unfortunately mine is still on the refrigerator shelf because as you’ll soon see…I get a little sidetracked by genius sometimes.
When I grabbed the milk, I spied the tub of ricotta on the shelf in the refrigerator and was instantly inspired. As soon as the milk was mostly absorbed into the rice, I spooned a very large dollop (or two) of the ricotta cheese into the rice.
Oh. My. Divine. Being.
I probably should have stopped there but I have a cheese problem. I don’t think it’s a problem but there’s probably a scientific term out there that reflects it in a negative light. I like cheese. So I added a good scoop of grated parmasen too.
At this point the skillet was pretty full, but I was determined to see this through. I added the sausage and vegetables back into the skillet and very carefully stirred it around until it was all incorporated.
I only lost one little butternut squash to the stove grates and the smallest morsel of sausage to the dog waiting underfoot.
Y’all. So okay, it feels like five hours standing in front of the stove stirring rice into liquid but it is totally worth it. And the cheese… Y’all. When I went to divide this between the kids it cut and lifted out of the skillet like a piece of pie. I’m pretty sure the cheese did that. And yet once it got into the bowl it was just perfectly soft and rich and spoonable.
Every kid licked their bowl.
And every kid was full.
We ended up putting two servings in the fridge but they were gone by lunch the next day.
Just as soon as I get amnesia about how long this recipe takes, we’ll make it again. Only maybe I’ll have a regular sized kitchen and triple the recipe.