Butternut Vegetable Risotto (and other news)

I don’t really have a kitchen right now.

Really, I mean that I have a kitchen but I don’t have a kitchen. It’s a half-finished kitchen with plywood counter tops, a retro Westinghouse stove and oven that tends to burn everything thus far, and boxes full of my spices, pantry items, pots, pans, tupperware–you name it. BUT I am so not complaining. Mostly because I now live somewhere with heat. And water. Running, clean water. And rent I can afford. I’m back in the city, away from the cabin, and loving life more than I thought I could!

This morning I read Ricki’s post about her battle with ACD, “Living with Candida, Twenty-Two Months Later.” In it, she quotes Nietzsche via Irvin Yalom: “When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.” Wow. I really can’t explain how much that quotation means to me right now–in terms of understanding my life since last May or so.

I didn’t give a 2010 recap–that, honestly, would have been too painful for me. 2010 was a tough, tough year. I made some horrible decisions in my personal life, turned down the University of Mississippi’s offer for a TAship in their creative writing MFA, started working for Big Pine as a chef, moved to the cabin, and, through it all, lost integral pieces of myself. I lost myself in 2010. Now, granted, good things happened too, especially Canada and realizing that G was in front of my face all along (I’ve known him since I moved to Roanoke), I met amazing friends, I’ve grown as a chef and a writer–there are a lot of positives. But I’ve reverted to bad habits because I’m tired, because I’m stretched too thin. After my monumental triathlon back in May, when I was in the best shape of my life, I began cheffing, working 10 hour days and eating whatever scraps I could find. I stopped exercising because I didn’t have the time anymore. I miss swimming. I miss cycling. I even miss running, which is rather oxymoronic. I miss cooking for myself. Boiling water for noodles is **not** cooking in my book. I miss loving food.

So where do I go with this, now that I know the losses? I’m not sure. I’ve removed myself from the cabin, which was one of the biggest stresses in my life, but this month I’m teaching a semesters worth of a class in one month on top of working on top of working on my thesis. Somehow I have to have my thesis done in April. What?! How?! No clue. I still have my job. I still have graduate school. I still have this teaching appointment this month. 2011–can we work on this, please? I’ve got an uphill battle to find my fitness, health, and joy, but I’m determined to make it work this year.

Personal quandaries aside, I *was* able to cook something at G’s last week, which I’ve subsequently been eating all week: Butternut Vegetable Risotto. It’s creamy, it’s hearty, it can be eaten in a bowl or fried in patties. And I can eat it for any meal of the day! With a schedule like mine, you’ve got to like it. While risottos are often associated with cream and cheese, the beauty of this one is that the roasted butternut squash puree does all the work. It adds such depth to the dish. And you can throw in whatever veggies you like. I picked up some organic baby portobello mushrooms on sale at the store, so I used those with onions, garlic, and spinach for some greenness. And then, this morning, for breakfast, I finished off the last of it by cooking up the last of my Trader Joe’s soyrizo and some local green kale. Super filling and super satisfying. Let’s hear it for easy, one pot dishes!

Butternut Vegetable Risotto

Olive oil
1 small butternut squash
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt & pepper to taste
1 lb arborio rice
32 oz vegetable broth
1/2-1 c white wine
4 c spinach

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peel the butternut squash and chop of the stem. Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Rub 1 tbsp olive oil onto top and bottom of halves, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 30-45 minutes, until soft when poked.

While the squash is baking, in a large saute pan, warm 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic, cook 1 more minute until fragrant. Add mushrooms and cook 5 minutes, until they begin to release water and become soft. Add herbs and salt and pepper to taste, mix to cover onion-mushroom mixture.

Add the arborio rice and cook for 1 minute, constantly stirring to combine everything. Add 1 c vegetable broth, stir. Continuing to stir the mixture every minute or so, when the broth is absorbed by the rice, add 1/4 c more broth. Repeat, stirring the rice until all broth is absorbed and the rice is almost all the way cooked. At this point, switch from broth to white wine, adding the wine in small amounts until the rice is fully cooked. The key is stir constantly. This process takes approx. 1 hour. (By the end of the cooking process, the rice will be thick, heavy, and creamy. It takes some muscle, but it’s worth it!)

When the butternut squash is roasted, puree in a food processor or mash with a fork. When the rice is fully cooked, add the butternut squash puree and the spinach. Cook and stir constantly for 5 more minutes, until the spinach is wilted.

Remove from heat and serve!

Makes 8 servings

14 Responses to “Butternut Vegetable Risotto (and other news)”
  1. I’m sorry to hear that your 2010 was not so hot, but it sounds like you’re already turning things around, so yay for that! This risotto looks delicious!

  2. First of all, I will need to put that recipe on next week’s menu for sure. I’m so in love with butternut squash lately! Last month it was Brussel sprouts. I’m a fickle veggie lover. :)

    I’m sorry 2010 was hard. I definitely know what it’s like to overwhelm yourself with too many things, but I also know that most of the get done and the ones that don’t aren’t that huge of a deal anyway. (Except for the thesis – you should probably get that done!) Best of luck in 2011 – I am sure you will rock it!

  3. Brandi says:

    i’m excited to see what 2011 holds for you!

    PS: Is the Big Pine website up yet? I still want to do a piece about it in Bella in the coming months!

  4. Ricki says:

    Jes, as you can probably guess, I sorta know how you feel ;) Kudos to you for forging ahead and for a positive approach to 2011. I’m so glad the quote resonated with you. . . for some reason, it really made me change the way I’d been looking at the whole situation and put me on a much more positive path, too. And I am so glad you enjoyed your time in Canada! :D

    The risotto looks fabulous–and I’m happy to have a new way to try butternut squash (I’ve gotten in the habit of making the warm butternut-chickpea salad w/ tahini dressing that I love so much, but I think new recipes are essential).

    Hugs to you–I have no doubt you will make this year a good one! :)

  5. Renae says:

    Wow, 2010 does sound like it was pretty rough for you. I’m glad you are feeling better back in civilization, and I’m glad you found (or realized you had found) G, and I hope 2011 brings you peace, happiness – and some must needed rest!

    And the risotto? I came home from work feeling strangely not hungry, but I think you’ve cured that.

  6. This looks totally awesome!

  7. feerlessfood says:

    I love butternut squash… I think I would eat butternut squash anything!

  8. eileen says:

    Speaking as another MFA, I can say the thesis will not be that awful. You can do it! You probably have a good chunk of it done already. Teaching that full class all at once sounds like a lot of work/pressure–but then it will be over, and you can concentrate on your creative work. At that point (early spring break, or just a weekend), I recommend taking a couple days entirely away from school/work to get back into your own brain. I spent a few days pre-thesis staring at canadian geese and writing in a park, and that helped immensely. It will be ok.

    PS. I also must say I definitely approve of that risotto. Winter squash!

  9. BitterSweet says:

    So sorry about the kitchen situation, and that you had to end 2010 on such a low note, but that only means that the new year will only be so much better, right? There’s plenty to look forward to, I just know it.

    And just so you know, I -would- consider you a friend, so I’m glad you accept my absent cookies and IOU! :)

  10. KC says:

    Oh man, that risotto looks really good. I was just wanting to try a new risotto recipe, too (my old standard is sundried tomato risotto). Hope this year treats you well!

  11. rebecca says:

    Here’s to good things in 2011 for all of us! Are you back in the Grandin Village neighborhood? I hope you regain a working kitchen soon…I definitely know how destabilizing that can be for we food people. Next time I’m in Roanoke I’ll buy you dinner at Lucky’s and we’ll toast the possibility of good things for all of us in this new year.

  12. Monica says:

    Well, without going into the gory details I must say that this post really spoke to me – I can relate to your 2010. But I had no idea the cabin was such a stress – I always pictured you as having this awesomely idyllic food-centric life. I guess I wasn’t reading between the lines there. Sounds like you’ve already made some positive steps in the right direction. 2011 is going to rock!

  13. Beth says:

    I’m so sorry that 2010 was a tough year for you, Jes. As you know from reading my blog, I can relate. But, like you, I feel positive about the possibilites and promise of 2011. I’d say you’re already ahead of the game with so many insights and revelations about past mistakes—that’s a huge step forward. I’m sorry the cabin didn’t work out—it did look so enchanting—but I know that reality sometimes falls short of our romantic perceptions. :-)

    All the best to you, Jes, in 2011.

  14. Aww, Jes, I had no idea were so unhappy! :(

    I hope all the changes you’ve made keep you happy and healthy. *hugs*

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