A few weeks ago I went to an amazing cooking demonstration at the LCBO where the sous chef from Mistura (Massimo Capra’s restaurant in Toronto) was cooking with vermouth. I like vermouth in Negronis, but had never thought of cooking with it…genius! Apparently you can use it anywhere you use wine. As I see it, vermouth has a few advantages over wine. First, it’s cheaper, and second, it keeps almost forever (unlike wine, which has to be used fairly soon after opening it). Another reason (that the chef pointed out) is the complex flavour it gives dishes: vermouth is made from a blend of herbs, so it makes seasoning easier.
I decided to try out the vermouth idea last night, and I’m glad I did. The result was a rich butternut squash risotto…my kind of comfort food. Risotto demands a lot of attention. It’s not something you can just let cook and go watch tv. The key to getting a creamy (not clumpy, not crunchy) risotto is in adding the warm stock to the rice very gradually. I like to use a soup ladle and add one ladle-full at a time, waiting for it to be completely absorbed by the rice, then adding another ladle-full, and so on.
To make two huge heaping plates with a bit leftover, you will need:
1 medium sized butternut squash
1 teaspoon of butter or margarine, or cooking spray
1 1/2 cups of arborio or carnaroli rice
4 tablespoons of butter
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 to 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1/4 cup of red vermouth (Martini Rosso)
2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
Preheat the overn to 350°F. Wash the squash and cut it in half with a large, sharp knife so you have two symmetrical halves. Grease a baking sheet (with the butter, margarine, or cooking spray) and place the squash on it cut-side down. Bake for 50-60 minutes.
When the squash has been cooking for about 40 minutes, begin warming the chicken stock in a sauce pan over medium heat. In a medium to large heavy frying pan, melt 3 of the tablespoons of butter. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, being careful not to let it brown.
Add the rice to the pan and stir, then let it cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the vermouth and a ladle-full of the warm chicken stock. Stir the rice mixture and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and continue stirring and simmering (uncovered). Once all of the stock has been absorbed, add another ladle-full.
When the squash has been cooking for 50 minutes, check that it is done by poking through the skin at the stem with a fork. If it feel tender, remove one half from the oven, and leave the other to bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. Peel and cube the first squash half, and add it to the rice in the pan. Continue adding stock and letting it evaporate one ladle-full at a time.
Remove the other squash half from the oven and peel it. Mash this half and add it to the pan. When you’ve only got a ladle-full of stock or less left in the pot, taste the risotto to see if it is still crunchy. At this point it should be just slightly chewy (al dente) but not crunchy. If you’re happy with the texture, add the remaining tablespoon of butter as well as the parmesan cheese. If you want the rice to be softer, add the rest of the stock and let it absorb before adding the parmesan and butter. Buon appetito!