I have a confession. I have never made an actual risotto.
OK. I did try it once. Years ago. I knew very little about cooking at the time, and followed a recipe in a book. One of the first cookbooks I ever bought for myself. But I didn’t use Arborio rice. (I thought that all rice was interchangeable. BIG lesson learned.) After hours of stirring and simmering and adding more (and then more) stock, the rice was still crunchy. Not creamy. Not satisfying. Not good.
Then I discovered Schar’s gluten-free Anellini pasta noodles at a dedicated gluten-free bakery and grocery store in Michigan. The woman working in the shop that day told me her mom prepared the noodles risotto-style. I was inspired, and this was the kind of “risotto” that I made for years. It cooked quickly and was soft, creamy, rich and totally indulged my pasta-holic side.
This recipe was a serendipitous discovery. A few weeks ago, I had a roast simmering away in the crockpot. I wanted to make a side dish that was relatively easy, quick to make and healthful. So I made the sweet potato “grits” from the Inspiralized cookbook. I was curious about this dish, and how grits-like it really was, but I only had white sweet potatoes in my pantry.
Let’s be real. This was not at all like grits. But! It was soft, creamy, delicious and comforting. (And healthy!) And, with the white sweet potatoes, I thought it looked like risotto. Thus a recipe was born. And I ate the leftovers for lunch for nearly a week. So, so good.
I love my little spiralizer. It was inexpensive and has made eating vegetables so much fun! (Plus, depending on the veggie, I get a hefty little upper arm workout too! Win win.) I think my all-time favorite vegetable to turn into “noodles” is butternut squash. It also makes very quick work of thinly, uniformly slicing onions. A few less tears and a little more fun in the kitchen is always a good thing.
Once you’ve made a vegetable into a noodle, you can then turn it into “rice” by pulsing the curly-cues in the food processor until they’re chopped enough to resemble grains of rice. I love this option when I want rice, but need something with a better nutritional profile. Plus, it’s infinitely better than cauliflower rice. (I’m sorry, I’ve tried. And tried. I just can’t like cauliflower.)
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been trying to get out of my vegetable rut. I wanted to diversify beyond broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts. I’ve been trying to eat a different vegetable at every meal. Roasted squash or green veggie smoothies for breakfast. Vegetable noodles for lunch. And some kind of vegetable or two with dinner. I haven’t lost any weight or anything yet (I’m looking at you, cookies), but I do feel better.
Spiralizing helps keep me from falling back into the vegetable rut. There are so many cool things you can do! I just don’t ever treat these veg noodles like pasta. My brain and belly are too in love with pasta, real pasta, to be convinced otherwise. But butternut squash noodles sauteed in coconut oil and tossed with panang curry sauce? Oh, yes please. Potato noodle carbonara? Check. Spirals on top of pizza or tossed with salad greens? Totally. And now, risotto!
These beautiful mushrooms are called cinnamon caps. That gorgeous golden brown color rubs off, staining your fingers a turmeric yellow. They’re hardy but tender, with a rich aroma and meaty texture. I found these at the farmers market over the weekend. The caps are smaller than other baby mushrooms. I chopped the larger caps into quarters, the others in half. A good substitute would be cremini or baby bellas.
- Microgreens (served on the side)
This dish is the perfect partner for this time of year. The sun rises earlier and sets a little later every day, but a chill still sweeps through. After a little tease of spring last week, we’ve been drenched in rain and cold here. The cherry blossom trees are exploding in tiny pink blooms, a bright note against the evergreen and gray skies. As we transition between the seasons, I feel a little twinge of nostalgia for comforting, cozy, winter foods.
So, here’s a toast to the last of winter. Soon enough it will be spring.
Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.
— Pietro Aretino
Also, I’m not sure there is anything better than bacon-wrapped squash. Craig ate the bacon off his squash wedges. When I chuckled (typical man move, amirite?!) he stated, quite emphatically, that while the bacon-flavored squash was good, the squash-infused bacon was ON. POINT. There you have it my friends. Could squash-infused bacon be the new maple candied bacon? Let’s make it happen!
A few quick notes, friends: First, I totally forgot what kind of squash I used. I bought it at the farmers market because it was just so darn pretty. Yellow flecked with green and orange and a touch of red. A small pumpkin, acorn squash or even a butternut squash will work here. Use caution when peeling the squash, and make sure your knife is sharp. Second, I only used half of my squash. I got 8 wedges from one half, which was enough for the two of us (with leftovers!). I’ve included a range for the recipe if you’d prefer to use half or the whole squash. I didn’t season the squash at all — no oil, no salt — because of the bacon. It would be delicious with a light drizzle of maple syrup or a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper at the table. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, omit the bacon. You’ll need to toss the squash wedges with oil, salt and pepper. I highly recommend using a smoked sea salt to get some of that barbecue-y meaty flavor without any of the meat.
Grain-Free Sweet Potato Paleo Risotto with Bacon-Wrapped Winter Squash
For the risotto:
1 pound white sweet potato, ends trimmed and peeled
1 yellow onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups chopped mushroom caps
2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
For the squash:
4-8 strips of thinly sliced bacon
1 small squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the strips of bacon in half lengthwise. Wrap each thin slice around a squash wedge. Use toothpicks to hold the bacon in place, if necessary. (Try to keep the toothpicks on the same side of the wedge and facing the same direction to make roasting easier.) Place the bacon-wrapped wedges on the prepared baking sheet.
Roast the squash wedges for 10-15 minutes. Using a pastry or basting brush, baste the wedges with the bacon fat that has rendered out onto the sheet pan during roasting. (Keep an eye on your squash and continue basting if you notice it is drying out.) Continue to roast for another 10 minutes until the squash is fork tender and the bacon is crispy.
Cut the sweet potato in half (this will make it easier to spiralize). Spiralize the potato using the “shredder” blade to create thin, spaghetti-like strands. Place the sweet potato spirals in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until chopped and resembling the size of grains of rice. (Depending on the size of your food processor you may need to do this in batches.)
Heat a 12-inch skillet with high sides over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the diced onion and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onions soften and are beginning to turn translucent. Don’t let the onions brown, as this may darken or color your final dish. If the onions are cooking too quickly, turn down the heat.
Add the chopped mushrooms to the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and saute for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the sweet potato “rice” and mix. Cook for two minutes to heat the rice. (Add a bit more oil if your veggies are sticking to the pan.)
Add the 2 cups of vegetable stock and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Bring the mix to a simmer. Cover the skillet and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the mix isn’t boiling or sticking to the bottom of the pan. Stirring will also help to release some of the sweet potato’s natural starches which will thicken the risotto and make it creamier.
After about 15 minutes, check the sweet potato for doneness. It should be soft and tender, but not mushy. (“Al dente” works for sweet potatoes too!) Simmer for a few more minutes if the potatoes aren’t soft enough. Otherwise, turn off the heat and stir in the cheese (if using) and the parsley. Taste and add a pinch more salt or pepper if necessary.
Serve the squash wedges and risotto together in a big bowl. Top with extra chopped parsley and cheese. Serve with a fresh green salad.