Saturday, November 6, 2010

Butternut squash, mozzarella and caramelised garlic risotto with shallots

Serves 4

I love my family, just in the same way the squash and the pumpkin relationship work with each other. With either one of the squash family of vegetables, most recipes that call for a member will work in one shape or another. Squashes generally refer to four species of the genus Cucurbita native to Mexico and Central America: Squashes, Pumpkins, Courgettes and Marrow (or zucchini if you must) and finally Gourds. That chilly time on the cusp of both autumn and winter is true squash time, and having one hanging in my fridge almost makes the season for me. I'm using oven roasted butternut in this risotto today, and should there be any of that and the broth left over, that'll be tomorrow's soup with the addition of a few crispy strips of smoked bacon.

Risotto is a terrific carrier for any of these vegetables,  anything rich, creamy and cheesy will accept the bitter roughness often leached from these dudes, soaking it up like a fluffy bath mat. 

Once the basics of risotto making is mastered, the flavour combinations can easily be as varied as what you'd put through any pasta, stuff into any sandwich or pile on any pizza. Don't hold back. Make it seasonal. Make it now. 

400g butternut squash
olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and diced
55g unsalted butter
200g risotto rice
700ml chicken broth, hot
55g Parmesan, grated
125g buffalo mozzarella, cut into 1cm cubes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 large bunch fresh basil
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tblsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
about 3 tblsp olive oil
3 tblsp freshly grated Parmesan

crispy shallots

55g shallots, peeled and finely sliced
115g plain flour, seasoned vegetable oil for frying

caramelised garlic

16 garlic cloves
200ml chicken broth, hot
25g unsalted butter

Put the basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor with a little salt and pepper, work to a paste, and add enough olive oil to produce a loose-textured puree. Remove from the food processor, pour into a bowl and fold in Parmesan.

Dust the shallots in seasoned flour, shake off any excess and deep-fry in vegetable oil at 160°C /320°F. When they are a light golden brown, remove from the oil using a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Season with a little salt and keep on a warm plate.

Blanch the garlic in a pan of salted boiling water for about 3 minutes, then peel and transfer to a clean pan. Pour off the water and add the chicken broth and butter. Cook until the garlic is soft and the broth is reduced to syrup that coats the cloves. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Peel and seed the butternut squash, dice into 1cm cubes and fry in a little olive oil until lightly coloured. Transfer to the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the flesh is tender. Meanwhile, gently sweat the diced onion in the butter until the onion is soft. Add the rice to the onion; raise the heat and cook, stirring, until the rice is shiny and translucent. Lower the heat and begin to add the hot broth, a ladleful at a time, wait for it to be absorbed before adding the next ladleful.

Once the rice is cooked to al dente and of the correct texture, fold in the Parmesan, mozzarella and squash, and cook for 2 minutes more, check and season to taste.

Serve immediately on hot plates, drizzle the pesto around the risotto and top with a small pile of crisp shallots and caramelised garlic cloves. But if you want to speed up the whole process, lose the shallots and garlic, and there's a 30 minute midweek supper with enough leftovers for tomorrow's soup.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Baked pheasant with figs and marsala sauce

Serves 4

Just in the same way that the mushrooms are out in force, the feathered game season has hit us hard and fast, with early offerings of pheasant. Some are saying it's a better grouse season than first expected, which bodes well for the next couple of months. I'm as strong an advocate for this whole seasonal eating malarky as I am a wearer of colourful socks, so its a bit of a passion of mine I guess. As much as I'm loving my current city posting in the States, I do miss getting out there with nature and finding my own dinner, little beats it. Even the youngest of pheasant can have quite a powerful aroma and gamey flavour, and is best paired with a strongly flavoured sauce. Caramelised figs cut through the richness in this dish, but you could also do the same with peeled and quartered apples and pears.

75g butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 oven-ready pheasants
250ml dry white wine
2 garlic cloves, chopped
500ml good quality chicken stock
6 ripe firm purple figs, halved
2 shallots, chopped
1 tsp plain flour
250ml marsala
2 tblsp of flat leaf parsley, freshly chopped
Handful of toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Melt two thirds of the butter in a cast-iron casserole dish or roasting pan. Season the pheasants, then sauté in the butter on all sides until lightly golden. Add the wine, garlic and chicken stock and roast in the oven, cooking the birds for 20 minutes on each side. Remove the birds and keep warm. Strain the cooking liquor, then boil until it has reduced by half.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a frying pan and cook the figs, cut-side down, for 2-3 minutes without turning, until lightly caramelised. Remove the figs, reserving the butter, and set aside.

Add the shallots to the pan and sauté for 8-10 minutes until soft and golden. Sprinkle over the flour, then gradually stir in the marsala. Bring to the boil and reduce by two thirds.

Stir in the remaining cooking liquor and any juices from the pheasants. Cook for about 5 minutes until you have a smooth sauce. Add the figs to the sauce, then simmer gently for 3 minutes. Check for seasoning and stir in the parsley. Carve the pheasant, pour the sauce over and sprinkle with the walnuts. Serve with fried polenta or mashed potato.

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