Comfort; Risotto

It is a Sunday morning and we walk into the kitchen store. Lulu shoots straight for the older gentleman by the front counter. A shy kid by nature, she acts like she owns the place. Faced with Steve by the front counter, words actually come out of her mouth. A sticker, she says. I want a sticker. She knows that Steve deals in stickers and wants some of the loot. Steve reaches into his apron, gets a sticker out, and places it on Lulu’s sleeve- exactly on the spot she selects.

On a lunch break, I decide that I could not live without a terrine dish. I drive myself to the same kitchen store. Beth is there. Beth is amazing- she knows her stuff and loves it. She has a nerdy-cool haircut and dark-rimmed glasses. Maybe in her late twenties, Beth loves to eat; she loves to cook. She is straight-forward, not brass but not overly bubbly, always happy to find just the thing for you. She finds my dish, of course- a red lovely shiny Le Creuset terrine dish. It is perfect! She is just as excited about this purchase as I am.

A Tuesday night, we walk back in the kitchen store, toddler on hand. With no specific mission in mind, we stroll in to see what sort of kitchen-gadget trouble we can get into. Lulu’s eyes dart around for Steve, but no dice. Mary, however, is there. She does not have stickers. She has the next best thing- Disney princes logo rubber banz bracelets- like these. One impediment, Lulu doesn’t know. Mary walks up to her, shows her the loot, and tells her- I’ve known you since you were in your mommy’s belly. She is right. One day before Lulu was born (unbeknownst to us that the arrival was that near), we were in the same store. The husband had Mary select the perfect popsicle molds for watermelon popsicles to bring to the hospital. He made the popsicles, and we went to the hospital.

That store is my happy place. It is the place I walk into to see familiar friendly faces; to touch crazy new kitchen gear; to talk about what I need to make my next overly complicated dish or the next very simple one. Everything about this store gives me comfort- it is warm, intimate, personal, peaceful. Familiar and welcoming; it always makes me feel at home.

Comfort is a beautiful thing. We are more prone to embrace it in the winter. It is order, quiet, relief, and familiarity. It soothes, heals, eases any disturbance. Comfort is sweet, and warm, and kind. It embraces you either with a pleasing scent, a soft feel, a known sound, a tastebud-tickling taste. When you crave it, you find it in that old perfume, in the warm wool sweater, in that record you loved to listen to, in the winter- comfort foods. I find my comfort at the Cherry Creek Mall at Sur La Table– and in this risotto.

Butternut Squash Risotto, a Lucques-adapted recipe

Ingredients: 2 cups 1/2 inch diced Butternut Squash; 2 tablespoons olive oil; 1 tablespoon thyme leaves; 4 cups chicken stock; 5 tablespoons unsalted butter; 1 cup diced yellow onion; 2 cups Arborio rice; 1/4 cup dry white wine (or whatever you feel like drinking the rest of from a new bottle); 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the squash with the oil, 1 teaspoon (a third of your total quantity) of thyme, salt, and pepper. Roast it on a baking sheet for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally until it is tender.

Bring the 4 cups of chicken stock (mine for example was frozen- made my, froze it- always great to have on hand) and 4 cups of water to a boil then reduce to the gentlest possible simmer.

Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the butter and when it foams, add the onions, remaining 2 teaspoons of thyme, a pinch of salt, and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper. Sautee for 7-8 minutes until the onion is translucent.

Stir in half of the roasted squash, the rice, and 2-3 healthy pinches of salt. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly until the rice starts to get toasted and gets a white dot in the middle of each grain. Pour the wine in, and once it evaporates, add one cup of the hot stock/water and stir constantly. Drink the rest of the bottle, once cup at a time. When the liquid is completely absorbed in the rice, add one more cup, and stir continuously.

Continue adding the liquid in 1 cup batches, stirring with a vigorous circular back and forth motion, across the bottom and sides of the pan. Each cup of liquid should be completely absorbed before more liquid is added. After most of your liquid is absorbed, the rice should should still be somewhat al dente. What you are going for is neither soupy, nor dry- just a nice pile of rice grains cooked through and coated with a flavorful starchy sauce. It may need to cook longer, or you may need to add liquid- always warm the liquid before adding. And add gently and slowly, always stirring.

When done, let it rest for 2-3 minutes. Add the rest of the squash, half of the parmesan, and another pinch of salt. Stir it in. Serve with the rest of the cheese on top.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

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  • jenreyna

    This looks amazing, Andra. p.s. I think I'm in love with LuLu. :)

  • jenreyna

    *er Lulu. Sorry…fast fingers.

  • Anonymous

    I miss you Andra! Let's get together soon and cook and bake!!

  • A Plum By Any Other Name

    Your story makes me think that the "hard days" would be made easier with a sticker on your sleeve … and risotto! Tis the season. ;)

  • Monet

    You are making me miss Denver so badly! I loved that store, and I wish I could drive over to visit tomorrow. I loved hearing your story, and I love this simple recipe for one of my favorite comfort dishes. Thank you for sharing, dear. I hope you have a wonderful Friday!

  • Jean

    I feel the same way about this store (mine in the bay area). I could spend all day there and I can relate to Lulu's love of stickers.

    This is comfort food, indeed. Wish I had some now.

  • Petes

    Beautiful and it looks so tasty!

  • sara @ CaffeIna

    I still have to find a store like this in the new area where I just moved but I could totally feel that comfort feeling by just reading your words…and looking at your risotto. Risotto is one of my most comforting food too!

  • Baking Barrister

    Just want to stop by and say yo. Plus that's a really cute story–it's so wonderful when you really get to know people at a place you frequent a lot. Though I try not to befriend my kitchen store employees in a bid not to be drawn back on a weekly basis ;)

  • Tes

    Your risotto looks really delicious and comforting. I would love a bowl of this eveyday :)

  • the constant hunger

    I have a butternut squash sitting on my kitchen counter. It will soon become dinner in the form of this recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  • ravienomnoms

    This is a great recipe! Thanks for sharing it!

  • Ms. WhitePlates

    What a beautiful story. The places intricately woven into our own lives in such a personal way make them wholly our own, don't they? When associated with food, it seems all the more special because if its connection to nourishment. I suppose you wrote a recipe too! It's gorgeous, once I started playing with squash it became my favourite vegetable.

  • veggietestkitchen

    Great story. I LOVE risotto, and how you weaved it together. That was a smooth transition