Seasons’ Eating: Butternut Cider Risotto with Lancashire Cheese
by Valeria Necchio
London, UK – Back from ten days of sunbathing and summer food eating in the Spanish Basque Countries, London welcomed me with chilly days and a good dose of rain. Confused by the leaves crowding on the sidewalks, the brisk wind and the little daylight, I wandered if I missed something –where did summer go? I am not the biggest fan of fall, I have to say. I happen to be born in October and as far as I remember, I always hated it: no pool parties, no open-air games, no water-balloon wars, no strawberry cake. Colorful leaves excite me for five minutes, I start missing tomatoes a week after they go out of season, and no broccoli would ever make up for their loss.
Yet, I don’t dislike every part of fall, as I deeply love fall food, especially squash and pumpkin. Maybe because it is such a key-element of my Venetian food heritage, maybe because of the sweet, comforting flavors and its versatility in both sweet and savory dishes, or maybe because there are so many types, and all look so beautiful… Winter squash can uplift my spirit on gloomy days. The way I have always eaten squash since I was a kid was with rice in a sort of soup called risisuca or risi suca, which in my dialect simply means rice and squash. Let’s say that it was a soupier version of a very runny risotto, where the starting element was a very watery squash puree, to which rice and other optional ingredients such as pork sausage or herbs where added. A truly fall-ish comfort food, nourishing and warming. Rice and squash-based, I thought it was a good starting point for a recipe relaying off Allison’s Lamb and Feta Meatballs with Pattypan Squash Pilaf. However, having already published a squash soup on these pages, I thought to go for the drier version of risisuca, i.e. risotto.
CLICK HERE for the full post and recipe.
These days, London is showing an abundance and variety of squashes, and my local farmers market is no exception. Among all, I always seem to pick the butternut, as I particularly love its firm flash and its more intense flavor. In my mind, I wanted to make this risotto a tad more local, taking advantage of the wonderful fall fare that the UK has to offer. To do so, I substitute the basic risotto ingredients, white wine and Parmigiano cheese, with apple cider and traditional Lancashire cheese. Lancashire is one of my favorite British territorial cheeses, and I particularly appreciate Mrs Kirkham’s Traditional Lancashire, as it is the only one still made the old way (clothbound and buttered), with well-developed flavors and a crumbly yet creamy texture. When fresh (about 3 months old), Lancashire is quite tangy, lemony and fruity, and it pairs well with sweet flavors such as squash –or, as they traditionally eat it in Lancashire, with apple pie!
The rest of the recipe came together quite easily, as it doesn’t differ much from a classic risotto recipe: onion soffritto, stock (vegetable, in this case), risotto-type rice (arborio or other short grain), a little butter. The secret for a successful, good risotto is in the timing, as the final result has to be both al dente and runny, with rice kernels well detached one from the other, “swimming” closely in a starchy and buttery cream. Also, it needs to be made just in time and eaten straight away –which leaves little time for taking photos! If you have leftovers, I suggest making rice patties or deep-fried or oven-fried rice meatballs just adding an egg and some breadcrumbs and some more cheese, as re-heated risotto is really one of the least appetizing things you would want to put on your plate.
So here you are, a Venetian inspired risotto made British, which will hopefully inspire you to make your own and warm-up one of your rainy days.
Butternut Cider Risotto with Lancashire Cheese
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes
Total Time: 30-35 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
- 1 small shallot, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 small butternut squash, peel and thinly diced
- 1 cup risotto rice (arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano)
- 3/4 cup alcoholic apple cider
- plenty of HOT vegetable stock (about 1,5 l)
- salt and pepper
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- about 1/2 cup crumbled Lancashire cheese
- fresh thyme or parsley, to serve (optional)
- Place the oil in a large pan over medium heat.
- When hot, add the chopped shallot and stir fry until translucent and soft, about five minutes.
- Add the squash and cook for five minutes, stirring every now and then to avoid sticking.
- Add the rice and toast it, stirring often, for about three minutes.
- Add the cider and let the rice deglaze and absorb the liquid. Heat the stock in another pot on the stove.
- Start adding the hot stock, one ladle at a time, and let the rice absorb it while cooking. Make sure you stir very often or the rice will stick at the bottom and burn.
- Taste the rice, add salt and pepper, and check the texture: when it feels cooked but still firm and a bit crunchy, add one last half-ladle of stock and remove from the heat. Add butter and cheese and stir energetically to incorporate. If the risotto feels too thick, add a bit more liquid.
- Serve immediately, with more crumbled Lancashire and some fresh herbs.