Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Brown Rice Risotto with Butternut Squash & Swiss Cheese

Sometimes, the road you're on seems to lead no where.  That's when
it's time to decide whether you want to forge your own path, or
just continue down the road and hope for a scenic detour.
(Photo taken October 25, 2011)
I wanted to make a brown rice risotto because I really, really like brown rice--at least as far as rices are concerned. And I've been enjoying the lemon risotto E's been making, but last time she made it, she said we needed to try another risotto recipe--and I thought she was right. I also wanted to figure out how to use up the remaining Swiss cheese I bought for another recipe.

The interwebs didn't tell me much about brown rice risotto that used Swiss cheese. Or about risottos that used Swiss cheese without using other cheeses. And for the brown rice risottos, many seemed to use cornstarch to make it creamy (ick! I'm sure it's fine, but it doesn't sound appealing). I finally a recipe that used just a splash of cream (okay, 1/4 cup) at the end to create this effect and I liked the idea (if nothing else, it would potentially smooth out the flavor at the end) and co-opted it, using milk instead--the milk we had in our fridge. Normally, I might use skim milk if I used a dairy-based milk at all.

I added nutritional yeast to increase the sort of bright flavor that parm usually lends to risottos, and because E said I'd have to be pretty sneaky to get her to eat it (second night in a row, E, second night in a row!). The Swiss lends a lovely nuttiness to the risotto, which complements the natural flavor present in brown rice and also the earthiness of the butternut squash (which for the record, pretty much disappears by the time it's been cooked with the rice, if you're the type that needs to hide veggies from your family).

Because brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, this risotto takes longer to cook than risottos based on arborio rice. I cooked it while talking on the phone to a friend in the Midwest (who, when he learned I was adding cumin, encouraged me to make it into a palak dal--and I'll admit, it was tempting and maybe a soon-to-eat meal with E) for a while and the rest of the time while E sat our kitchen table talking with me and knitting. I think, from start to finish, I spent perhaps 90 minutes on it (including prep!), which makes it a very time-intensive meal, even for a risotto, but I think it was pretty worth it. It tastes rich and creamy (and is rich and creamy) and has a salty-savory kick that seems especially appropriate for autumn.

This could easily be served as a main dish (how E and I ate it) or as a side dish. Although it's time intensive, it's also pretty easy to make -- you stir often, but not constantly, you can get other things done if you want (such as making puppy chow, like I did). The key is mostly not to get too distracted because brown rice isn't as traditionally starchy as arborio, which is a big part of what makes risotto so creamy.

A quick note about the herb water -- I don't tend to buy veggie broth or keep it on hand. This was my variation of making a vegetable broth. The fines herbes, once the water begins to simmer, steep into a weak tea-color and the salt gets absorbed slowly into the rice. I didn't find it overly salty, but depending on your rice and on your Swiss cheese, you might need more or less.

The picture I was able to get isn't super-great -- the risotto didn't work with the lighting in my kitchen. If I remember to take a picture again next time I make it, I'll post a better photo!

Brown Rice Risotto with Butternut Squash  & Swiss Cheese
6 ounces frozen butternut squash, cubed
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 large onion, chopped
2 large or 3 medium cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups long grain brown rice
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
6 cups water heated to simmering with 1 tablespoon fines herbes and 2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup white wine (optional, but deepens the flavor)
3 ounces Swiss cheese, cubed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons milk (preferably whole)

Saute the butternut squash in olive oil and butter, over medium heat, for 1-2 minutes, until defrosted and beginning to brown. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion turns translucent. Add the cumin and pepper flakes and saute about 30 seconds (until fragrant) then add the rice. Stir occasionally until the rice begins to turn white. Add 1 1/2 cups herb-water and the nutritional yeast to the rice. Stir constantly until the water has mostly been absorbed. Add the remaining herb-water 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently between additions, until the water has been used up and the rice is plump and tender. Add the white wine and stir until absorbed. Add the Swiss cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and well incorporated. Add the lemon juice, stir to incorporate, and then add the milk. Taste and add salt, if necessary. Serve hot.

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