I will say it again. Risotto!
It is a word that strikes a note of both fear and longing in the home cook!
It looks so tempting there on the restaurant menu. Creamy and flavorful, it is the kind of food that most people reserve for going out. It feels decadent with its silky texture and extraordinary flavor. The kind that whispers of a long slow cooking process.
It is a celebration food. It feels special because it feels like it requires significant culinary prowess to master – or in the very least a diploma from a culinary school.
But that is not how it started. Risotto is peasant food. And it is no harder to make than any other stew. Just requires a touch more effort.
But just a touch!
There are really three tricks to a perfect risotto every time.
1. Keep your liquid component hot. Why? Because if you add cold liquid to the hot rice it will seal the starch inside the grains of rice rather than leach it out. The starch is what makes risotto so creamy. So no skimping on this step!
2. Cook the rice in your fat until the edges are translucent. This adds flavor and seems to promote the release of starch. Risottos I have made that skipped this step never turn out as creamy as the ones where I follow through.
3. Add liquid slowly. This is critical. If liquid is added too quickly the rice will simply cook like normal rice does. It is the motion of stirring and the slow addition of liquid to the rice that creates risotto’s exquisite texture. Only add liquid when the rice has absorbed all of the previous batch and is looking somewhat dry.
And the basic recipe is equally as simple:
2 cups risotto rice (usually Arborio)
8-12 cups liquid 
1 tablespoon fat
From there, risotto is limited only by your imagination. Because it is peasant food it was designed to take advantage of left over scraps of food; to stretch more expensive or harder to come by ingredients. So it is easy to make just about anything into a risotto. My favorite is mushrooms and peas or asparagus. But it can be nearly any food; vegetables to meat.
This weekend since the farmers market yielded a gorgeous butter nut squash and the most amazing sweet-tart Fuji apples, I could not pass up the opportunity to combine the two into a seasonal risotto. And though the temperature outside was in the 80’s I still managed to enjoy a marvelous taste of fall.
As a bonus this recipe can be made vegan or vegetarian by using vegetable broth instead of chicken!
Butternut and Apple Risotto
1 cups risotto rice (Arborio is traditional)
2 cups apple juice or cider
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Half a medium butternut squash, diced (about 2 cups)
2 sweet tart or tart apples (Fuji, Braeburn, and granny smith are wonderful)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup shelled, toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds (optional) 
¼ cup Greek style yogurt, goat cheese, or zest from 1 lemon 
½ teaspoons cinnamon
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium saucepan bring heavily salted water to a boil. Add the squash and bring back to a boil. Boil for three minutes or just until the squash begins to soften. Drain and spread on paper towel, blotting off the excel moisture.
In the same saucepan combine the stock and apple juice. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat till the stock is at a bare simmer.
Drizzle two teaspoons of oil at the bottom of a Dutch oven. Heat on high until the oil shimmers. Add the squash and apples and cook until the apples are tender and the squash just begins to brown on the edges. Add the rice, drizzling the remaining teaspoon of oil on top. Cook on high until the rice turns translucent at the edges (it will look like a cats-eye).
Once rice is translucent pour three ladlefuls of the hot stock (about 3 cups) over it. Lower the heat to medium and stir until the rice begins to look dry. Add another ladleful, stirring to incorporate. The liquid should begin to bubble immediate when added. If not, turn up the heat on the remaining stock to keep it simmering.
Stirring frequently, continue to add stock; waiting until the rice is nearly dry between additions, until there are only 2 cups left. Add the spices, except salt. As stock tends to be salty anyway, salt should be added at the very end. Continue to add the remaining liquid until the rice is creamy and cooked through. Remove from heat and stir in the yogurt or lemon zest. Taste for salt and adjust as necessary.
Cover the pot, then drape with several large towels to keep warm. Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes to allow flavors to meld.
Right before serving, mix in half of the pumpkin seeds and garnish with the rest.
For a decadent touch, drizzle with a little bit of truffle oil!
 How much liquid the risotto will take depends on a number of factors like humidity, freshness of the rice, and the phases of the moon. It is better to have too much than not enough. Crunch risotto is just not good eats!
 I love the crunch and nuttiness that roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds bring but they are not necessary.
 The tart or the lemon zest or yogurt helps to balance out the sweetness of the squash and apples. I used low fat Greek yogurt but lebnan or sour cream would work really well here.
* Because I am submitting this for the anti-oxidant rich food event I thought I might also add a list of what those anti-oxidants were:
- Butternut Squash is a rich source of beta-carotene as well as an excellent source (20% or more of RDA daily value) of magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. It is also a good (between 10 and 20% of RDA) source of calcium. Plus a ton more!
- Apples are only one of two (onions being the other) major food sources of flavonoids which have been shown to increase cardiac health and protect arteries. They are also a good source of fiber and vitamin C.
- Pumpkin seeds have been shown to promote good prostate health and may actually help against prostate cancer. In addition they are excellent sources of magnesium, manganese, iron and zinc as well as mono-unsaturated fats and protein.