Before I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance and Coeliac’s disease I used to make a butternut squash and goats cheese risotto. Obviously the goats cheese is a huge no-no now but I have found that with some extra veggies and some perfect home grown herbs this risotto can be even better than ever before!
Butternut squash is a really healthy and powerful food. Technically a fruit the butternut squash is full of anti oxidants, dietary fibre and also potassium which can help to strengthen bones and improve bone health; ideal for Coelaic’s trying to boost levels of support against osteoporosis. Butternut squash is also full of vitamin C to keep the immune system ticking along and boost against the snuffles.
As promised this is a very, very squashy risotto so I actually use an entire large squash in this recipe. Start by peeling and chopping the squash, removing all the seeds and chopping into small pieces about the size of raisins. I am sorry, it is a lot of chopping, get the power ballads on to help you through it like you would at the gym as it really is worth it. I then roast the squash in a small amount of olive oil for just under an hour, the squash will go really soft and a lovely sweet smell will fill the rest of your house (but only if your house is as small as mine).
Once the squash is cooked you can start the risotto in a large pan. Start by chopping a large onion into small squares and fry the onion on a high heat in a little olive oil. Olive oil is one of those brilliant products where there are actually loads of fair trade and ethically sourced options. I recommend the Clearspring olive oil as it is organic as well as produced in Italy. They also make a beautiful gluten free Tamari sauce which I use as a substitute to soy sauce in a lot of dishes.
When the onion has softened in the oil and heat for about 5 minutes I add 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and then add Arborio rice directly to the pan. I use about 250g which will mean the risotto can serve 4 people (or fewer but more hungry people!). The majority of Arborio and risotto rice you find in supermarkets and shops are grown and processed in Italy which means that in theory the production should be in line with EU employment and environmental legislation but it is worth looking out for organic risotto rice which can be found quite easily.
Continue to fry the rice and onion, stirring all the time and keeping an eye out for when the rice starts to become translucent. When the rice has got that nice see through quality about it then it is time to pour in some stock (see the carrot and coriander soup post for info on gluten free, ethical and sustainable stock cubes!) Make about 500ml of stock but initially pour in about 100ml and let it sizzle off quickly.
Add all the yummy, squishy squash to the pan and stir in along with more of the stock and plenty of chopped, fresh rosemary. I love the taste of rosemary and really don’t understand when people say it only matches with meat. I find it adds a depth to a lot of vegetable dishes and in this dish it cuts through the sweetness of the squash. Rosemary is originally a herb found in the Mediterranean I am keen to bring rosemary to new appreciation by pairing it with colourful dishes and flavours. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of rosemary bushes in my garden and nothing beats these lovely fresh herbs.
Once the rosemary is added it is time to turn the heat down to a medium level and continue to add stock and stir for the next 20 – 25 minutes as the rice absorbs the stock and turns into a juicy, filling looking meal.
You will notice that as the squash cooks the beautiful, bright colour of the squash is absorbed into the rice, when all the stock has simmered off and the rice is soft and cooked it is time to add roughly chopped spinach and allow the spinach to wilt into the dish. Spinach is a great addition to vegetarian and vegan meals as not only is it really delicious but is also full of iron, folic acid and vitamins A, C and K. Paired with the potassium in the butternut squash vitamin K makes this meal a dream for healthy bones! Once the spinach is wilted the risotto is ready to serve. If you are as lucky as I am to have fresh rosemary you can garnish with a sprig ready to serve. I love Italian food and this recipe just proves that lactose free and gluten free food can be as filling, rich and creamy as you could ever want it to be. A real dinner time treat.