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Winter Squash Wheat Berry Risotto

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I love risotto.  I enjoy cooking it and I absolutely adore eating it.

First, cooking it: forget everything you’ve heard and/or read about risotto being difficult to prepare. Although it does require your undivided attention for about 20 minutes, there is nothing particularly challenging about the cooking process. Having all of the ingredients prepped and ready to go is key, so your attention is not diverted from the bubbling rice. The basic concept involves adding liquid in increments to a rice mixture. Once the rice absorbs one “dose” of liquid, another is added to the pot. A lot of stirring ensues after each liquid addition, but just think of it as an easy upper-body exercise. Switch to your non-dominant hand half way through for a balanced workout ;).

Next, eating it: what isn’t there to love about warm & creamy rice? If that basic comfort food doesn’t pique your interest, then perhaps the flavor and textural elements of this particular risotto will.  Caramelized roasted butternut squash and soft goat cheese are folded into a pumpkin-infused risotto of arborio rice and wheat berries. Crunchy pepitas provide a pleasant textural contrast to the combination of starchy arborio rice and chewy wheat berries. In retrospect, a bit of sage would have beautifully complimented the butternut squash and pumpkin. I’ve made a mental note for next time.

If you are hesitant to try wheat berries, let me serve as your encouragement. Yes, they have to be soaked overnight… and yes, they have to be cooked before being incorporated into various dishes.  Prep work aside, these little wheat nuggets are wonderful. Full of fiber and boasting a lovely chewiness, wheat berries are a healthy and yummy addition to oatmeal, salads, baked goods, and rice dishes.  Pick up a bag on your next grocery shopping trip, and I promise you won’t be disappointed!

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Winter Squash Wheat Berry Risotto

yields 2 large, 3 medium, or 4 small servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup cooked wheat berries (see package directions)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 16 ounces low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 to 3 oz goat cheese
  • 2 Tbsp toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400*F.
  2. Toss the squash with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a baking dish. Roast in preheated oven until tender, 30-35 minutes, tossing once or twice.
  3. Meanwhile, heat stock in a small pot over low heat.
  4. While the squash is roasting, heat another drizzle of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic to pot; cook, stirring, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add arborio rice and a pinch each of salt and pepper, and saute for 1 minute, then stir in wheat berries.
  6. Add in the wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed. Stir in 1/2 cup of warm stock, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Add remaining stock, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of stock is absorbed before adding the next (about 20 minutes total). Along with the last 1/4 cup of stock, add in the pumpkin puree.
  7. Reduce heat to low. Stir in the goat cheese and season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Fold in the roasted squash. Serve immediately, topped with pepitas.

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