Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Beauty of Butternut: Butternut Squash Risotto with Parmigiano Reggiano and Pistachios

I love butternut squash.  Apparently, I’m not alone in this unlikely adoration.  Nearly every restaurant I went to in Australia offered several butternut or other winter squash options: spinach salad with roasted butternut squash, sun dried tomatoes and feta, pumpkin and butternut ravioli, purees,pastas and, my favorite, butternut squash risotto.  For nutritional reasons and honest preference I do not eat white rice frequently, but I knew after one bite I would have to have a butternut risotto recipe in my arsenal after returning home.  I wanted something creamy and warm but with a bright flavor, something that let the simple goodness of the ingredients shine through.  Here are the results (I’m not quite sure why there is a halo of light around the rice. . .I like to think it is glowing with goodness!).

Butternut squash risotto with parmigiana reggiano

Risotto in its most basic form consists of a sofrito, one or more aromatics such as onion or garlic sauteed in olive oil or butter, rice, wine, and stock.  Most people say that butter and parmigiana reggiano are also part of the basic list, though I’ve found a few dissenters.  Use of the correct rice is essential to a successful risotto.  Short grained round or semi-round rices such as arborio, carnaroli, and vialone nano are the only rices with a high enough starch content to produce the creamy yet toothsome texture that makes risotto so enticing.  Arborio rice is the most readily available in the U.S.; carnaroli (actually a medium grained rice) and vialone nano have higher starch content, said to make for a creamier, less sticky finished product.  The richness of the rice, cheese and butter are cut by the citrus brightness of the wine and the delicate sweetness of the squash.  For an extra kick of protein and flavor try mixing in some smoked salmon.

arborio rice


spanish onion

creamy, but with no excess liquid pooling

Butternut Squash Risotto with Parmigiano Reggiano and Pistachios

serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a first course or side


1 c. arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano rice

½ of a small white or yellow onion, medium dice

olive oil

½ small butternut squash, grated

½ c. white wine, heated

2 ¼ c. chicken stock

(*arborio rice absorbs roughly 1.5 times its volume in liquid.  The rice you use may vary slightly.  It doesn’t hurt to have a bit more heated stock on hand the first time you make this.  Once you see how much liquid the rice you prefer absorbs, adjust the recipe accordingly.)

2 tsp. butter

1/2-3/4 c. parmigiano reggiano, finely grated

roughly chopped pistachios

In a small pan heat chicken stock to a simmer.

Sautee onion in 1 Tbs. olive oil until just beginning to soften. Add grated squash and cook until both are softened and onion is translucent. Remove from pan to clean bowl and set aside. Add more oil to the pan if necessary and add rice, stirring to cover each grain in the fat. Over medium heat sautee rice until it begins to become translucent and give off a warm, toasty fragrance, roughly five minutes. Add squash and onion back to the pan and mix. Cook for approx. two minutes longer, then add heated wine (if the wine is cold it will shock the rice causing the outside surface to flake while the inside remains hard).

When the wine has evaporated, increase the heat to medium high and begin to gradually add the simmering stock,one ladle at a time, stirring constantly from this point on. Before the liquid has completely absorbed add more stock. Continue the cycle of stock and stir for 15 to 20 minutes until two cups of the stock have been absorbed. Taste to see if the risotto has reached a desired level of doneness. If you like yours a bit less al dente, add and cook down remaining ¼ cup of stock. Remove from heat; add butter and parm. regg. and stir till smooth and creamy. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped pistachios.


Can’t think what to do with that left-over squash.  Try this soup, or maybe these treats!

Yes, we have some bananas. . .: Gluten-free Banana Nut Bread

Hi there!  It has taken longer than anticipated to get in the kitchen and get some photos of this recipe.  A combination of trying to readjust to winter and its accompanying darkness, and lack of a tripod account for most of it.  The rest is completely my fault.  I always find it difficult, after one of these long trips, to get myself reorganized, to slip back into the routine of our normal lives.  All that to say:  I finally have a recipe to share!  Gluten-free Banana Nut Bread as promised.  This bread has a very moist, cake-like crumb.  To me it is a homely, southern style  banana nut bread, straightforward, basic and good.

parchment lined

hot from the oven

snacking loaves

Gluten-free Banana Nut Bread



3/4 c. millet flour

1/2 c. almond and/or pecan flour, mixed

1/4 c. cornstarch

2 Tbs. chia gel (1/2 Tbs. chia seeds soaked in 2 Tbs. water for at least 10 minutes)

2 large eggs, room temperature

2 bananas, mashed or finely chopped

1/4 c. cane sugar

6 Tbs. maple syrup

4 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

3 Tbs. olive oil

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 Tbs. vanilla

1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Optional topping

2 Tbs sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

Makes two snacking loaves or 1 full-sized loaf

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line loaf pan(s) with parchment paper.

Mix flours, cornstarch, salt, baking soda and powder together.  In a separate bowl, mix together all other batter ingredients except toasted pecans.  Fold wet and dry ingredients together until moistened and add pecan pieces.  Pour batter into pan(s) and sprinkle with topping if desired I also threw on some cocoa nibs I had in the pantry).

For two snacking loaves cook for roughly 24 minutes.  For one full-sized loaf check for doneness at 30 minutes.  Removed from oven and let rest in pan for 10 minutes.    Remove from pan and complete cooling on rack.

with cocoa nibs

Canberra: Part Two

We are back home in Virginia now, longing for the sunshine we left behind and battling crazy jet-lag (that would be why I’m writing this post at 1 am and some bits of it might not be entirely coherent).  The last two weeks in Canberra were wonderful!  I had my first summer birthday, spent walking through courts of kangaroos, forests filled with gum and eucalyptus trees playing “I spy” for koalas, and desperately fleeing flies at Tidbinbilla Nature Park.

Up close and personal at Tidbinbilla

Male, female and joey resting out of the sun

It was amazing to wander among the kangaroos in their natural environment!

Flock of cockatoos in Tidbinbilla Nature Park

Sulphur-crested cockatoos

Jason at Tidbinbilla (surrounded by kangaroos. . .even though you cannot see them in this picture)

Koala: was released unsuccessfully into the wild by a zoo, he now lives in this snazzy hut in a gum forest with other, wild koalas

Summer birthday!

Also in those two weeks I, sometimes we, hiked gorgeous hills, observed the celebration of Australia Day, spent days lounging in the sun at an art deco swimming pool/bath house, and ate lots and lots more lovely food.

Art Deco Era Manuka Swimming Pool

One of many mosaics at the Manuka Swimming Pool lawn

In the kiddie pool

The necessity of staying in one relatively small place for work, rather than hopping all over Australia as tourists, allowed us to really learn Canberra, to have “places”, to get off the beaten path and to explore at our leisure all the city has to offer.  After spending most of the year being jostled about in the D.C. area, I most often opted to spend my days exploring outdoors, hiking the hills and nature reserves that surround and meander through the city, walking loops around the lake, or just walking through the neighborhoods.  Jason and I did explore some of Canberra’s wonderful museums and memorials, and spent our evenings strolling under the gum trees to dinners at our favorite restaurants and cafes, sometimes with friends, sometimes just us two.  Almost all of the food we had was really good:  fresh, fresh ingredients, cooked when you ordered it and kitchens always willing to accommodate food allergies if the menu didn’t already list allergy safe options (which 75% of the restaurants in Manuka and Kingston did).

Jason's BBQ Kangaroo burger. . .I know, it seems so wrong, but Australians swear they are cows that bounce (awful quality from video still)

Flat-white at Urban Pantry (another video still. . .Jason really liked videos on this trip!)

In those last two weeks we realized that nearly every cafe offered freshly squeezed juices and three kinds of hot chocolate. . .three. Also, milk is not a beverage typically ordered by adults, and Jason doesn’t need a translator in Australia (I guess Southern makes sense in the Inner South)!  It was summer, the sun was shining, we were together:  it was amazing.

Things to look forward to (inspired by our stay in Canberra):

Gluten-Free Banana Nut Bread (banana nut bread is EVERYWHERE in Canberra)

Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Pecorino Romano (tons of risotto and squashes in Canberra as well, and combinations of the two)