The night we arrived in Chicago, before meeting up with the rest of our group the next day and heading on to the lake house, three of us shared a meal at a fun little Italian restaurant in Wicker Park called Francesca's Forno. Inspired by a risotto we had shared there, Molly suggested that we make a main course risotto and a simple salad for one of our evening meals. I suggested one of my favorite combinations of Butternut squash and mushrooms. This was what we tentatively had in our minds as we set off for the Garden Market.
Anyone who cooks knows that your plans often change once you actually start shopping. This is especially true at a produce market. We had picked up our butternut squash and some mushrooms when I spotted some fresh lima beans.
To prepare the squash, I halved it horizontally at the point where the neck begins to widen into the seed cavity. I peeled and diced the neck
To prepare our Autumn Risotto, dice a medium onion and mince a fat clove of garlic. Sweat the onion and garlic in 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter along with a pinch of salt and 6 or 7 large sage leaves cut into a fine chiffonade. When the onions are very tender, add a pound of Arborio rice and continue to cook for a few moments until the rice is hot and sizzling in the butter. Add about 3/4 cup of white wine and cook until the wine has been completely reduced and/or absorbed. Begin to add the stock a ladleful or two at a time, waiting for each addition to be absorbed before adding more. The risotto does not have to be stirred constantly, but it should be stirred regularly and frequently. For a more complete description of the risotto process, see my earlier post on risotto. Be sure to continue to salt the risotto with the successive additions of stock, so that the resulting risotto will not be flat or bland. Pay attention to how salty your stock or broth is when adding salt and remember that the final addition of Parmesan will add to the saltiness of the dish.
After three or four additions of stock add the coarsely mashed squash purée and continue to cook.
We only purchased a quart of broth, so we used the lima bean cooking liquid as part of our cooking liquid for the risotto. Just use as much as you need.
The next evening Nancy put some of the roasted cubes of butternut squash into a wonderful salad...sort of a vegetable crouton addition to a green salad.
The following day for lunch, Molly turned the remaining diced roasted squash into one of my favorite dishes of the week—a favorite because it was so simple and beautiful, with nothing extra and nothing missing. She warmed the squash, remaining limas (we had cooked all that we purchased and only used a generous cup in the risotto) and leftover slices of maple-roasted parsnips, creating a simple autumnal vegetable medley. The colors and shapes were lovely together. Unfortunately, I didn't get a good picture of it.
As you can probably tell, the food at the lake house was wonderful. We even received another lesson from Bonnie for her special Cardamom Bread (someday I'll convince her to write a guest post).
I will savor the tastes of this week for months to come. But as I look back, it is not just the food and cooking that made it so very special. Rather, it was the laughter, conversation and camaraderie in the kitchen and at the table. And now that I am home, it isn't just one more meal that I crave. How I long to have more time... for one more walk through the woods...
or along the beach...
in the company of my very dear friends.