First semester is over. I made it through exams alive. I decided to celebrate by cooking for Novel Food with my friends Meg and Deby. Unfortunately, I got my deadlines mixed up, so this entry is late. Mea culpa, mea culpa.
The Time Traveler's Wife is not a food novel. It's a love story with an unconventional premise. But Audrey Niffenegger writes food scenes beautifully, and Clare and Henry are always eating delicious meals. (There's a Thanksgiving scene with a Thompson's Turkey. Need I say more?) I chose to cook a meal based on the scene when Henry meets Clare's friends for the first time.
Clare is an abominable cook. Her friends, Charisse and Gomez, aren't much better. So Henry walks into Charisse and Gomez' apartment for the first time, only to find the kitchen a disaster area.
"It's a work in progress," says Clare.
"It's an installation piece," says Charisse.
"Are we going to eat it?" asks Gomez.
I look from one to the other, and we all burst out laughing.
The merits of takeout are briefly considered, but Henry takes a look at the mess, and declares that he can make something out of the ingredients. Dinner is a success:
One hour and forty-three minutes later we are sitting around the dining room table eating Chicken Risotto Stew with Pureed Squash. Everything has lots of butter in it. We are all drunk as skunks.
I love this scene because it sounds just like the sort of meal I might improvise myself. However, I had the luxury of planning out this meal, so I played with the dish a little. I didn't have any leftover roast chicken, which is what I'd use for chicken risotto, so I decided to make squash risotto with caramelized shallots, accompanied by forty-clove garlic chicken. We may not have been drunk as skunks by the end of the evening, but we probably could have knocked out a whole coven of vampires at fifty paces with our breath.
Squash Risotto with Caramelized Shallots
(Serves four as a side or starter, or one for two days straight)
Preheat oven to 450F. Take an acorn squash (or half a small butternut squash) and hack it into small pieces with a very large cleaver. Place the pieces on a baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil, and put the tray in the oven.
Pour three or four cups of chicken or vegetable stock (homemade or storebought) into a small pan. Add a sprig of fresh thyme, if you have it. Set the pan on a burner on low heat.
Heat a generous slice of butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over low heat. Add three or four thinly sliced shallots, and a bunch of finely chopped scallions (dark green parts discarded.) Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the shallots smell sweet and have taken on a golden color. Add one cup of arborio or carnaroli rice. Stir until the rice is warmed through. Pour two glasses of dry white wine. Add one glass of white wine to the pot, and stir. Sip the other as you cook.
When the rice has absorbed the wine, turn the heat up a little and add a ladleful of stock. Stir until it has been absorbed by the rice, then add more. Continue this process (do not stop stirring) until the rice has reached the stage where it is soft enough to bite through, but still fairly hard. Remove the pot from the burner.
Pull the pan of squash from the oven. Let the squash cool enough that you can peel the skin away from the pieces without burning yourself. Add the squash to the risotto. Put the pot back on the burner, and continue stirring and ladling in stock. If you're starting to run out of stock, dilute it with water. (It won't affect the flavor of the finished risotto.)
When the rice is al dente (cooked through, but still has some bite), turn off the heat. Grab a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a grater, and grate a generous heap of cheese. Stir it into the pot. Serve with extra cheese on the side.