Jitterbug Risotto

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.” — Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

I’ll admit it, the first thing that attracted me to Rich was his library. And soon enough, his Nabakov, David Foster Wallace, and Thomas Pynchon were mixed in with my Tom Robbins, Philip Roth and cookbooks. And there our books sat, pretty much untouched by the other, for years. Every so often I would pick up a Foster Wallace tome, but so many words, so many footnotes. And every so often, Rich would stand in front of the bookshelf, and ask for a recommendation. And every time, whether he wanted something funny, clever, or serious, I would suggest the Tom Robbins’ epic Jitterbug Perfume. It took about six years, but a few weeks ago, Rich picked up Jitterbug, and he couldn’t put it down. Last Friday night, I turned to him and said “babe, it’s 1:30AM, it’s time for bed.” He had been captured by the best kind of hostage taker: a great book.

I had been gearing up for a beet-tinged Valentine’s Day post. Well, we don’t exactly celebrate Valentine’s Day. As it happens, we met on February 11, so we celebrate that day instead. It also makes it  easier to get a table for our romantic date. This year we went to a French restaurant which will remain nameless. It was a decent meal, but the chocolate souffle was so bad that they comped both it and Rich’s Chimay. That, plus our coupon, made for a very reasonable meal.

As I was saying, for my Valentine’s Day post, I had been thinking about the beet, with its juice that stains everything the color of love. And when I said to Rich, I’m thinking of doing a beet post this year for Valentine’s Day, he looked up from his book and said, “If you’re talking about beets, make sure to mention Jitterbug Perfume.” And he specifically mentioned this dish, which comes out a very Valentine’s Day color. He couldn’t have been more romantic if he tried.

Beet Risotto

1 large beet, or 2 small ones

Goat cheese

Arborio rice

Onion

Stock

Helpful tool: Food processor

This recipe is incredibly easy because it employs my favorite kitchen tool, the pressure cooker. Simply peel the beet and cut off its roots. Shred it in the food processor. Cook the risotto according to your pressure cooker’s instructions. After you add the rice, but before you add the stock, add the shredded beets, and continue with the recipe. When your risotto has cooked under pressure (mine takes about 7 minutes) replace the called for parmesan cheese with the same amount of goat cheese. It’s just that easy.

Butternut Basics

Butternut squash risotto: seven minutes in a pressure cooker.

As I mentioned in a previous post, work and school have been really crazy lately, and with Rich doing campaign things, sharing a meal together has become a precious commodity. I know I must sound like a broken record by now, but with my trusty pressure cooker and my well-stocked pantry, we have continued to enjoy tasty, inexpensive and quick meals.

One of my go-to dishes when I’m in a time crunch is butternut squash risotto. What?!? Impossible! you’re thinking. But I swear to you, if you buy a pressure cooker, you too can make risotto in seven minutes. Yup, that’s all it takes. Just buy a pressure cooker; most likely it will come with a recipe for risotto. (Results, and recipes, may vary by make and model, so I am not posting a full recipe here.)

In terms of ingredients, all you need is some Arborio rice (which Ocean State Job Lot will sell you for $2.99 a box), a chopped-up onion (pantry staple), a hunk of parmesan (which should just kind of hang out in your fridge’s cheese drawer) and a few cups of stock.

Now, I must admit I am spoiled by Rich who enjoys taking a few hours on his weekends to make homemade stock with leftover chicken carcasses (we keep them frozen until he has the time) and some odds and ends from my veggie drawer. Once it’s cooled off, we pour the stock into ice cube trays, freeze them, and then store the stock cubes in Ziploc bags in the freezer. But, in all seriousness, just keep a box in the pantry. As Julia Child (or Rachael Ray) would say, who’s to know if you take short cuts?

Now that that’s squared away, the only thing standing between you and a nice autumnal dish is that pesky butternut squash. Sure, you can buy it pre-cut from Trader Joe’s, or even find it in your grocer’s freezer, but the cheapest way to enjoy butternut squash is to buy it whole and clean it yourself.

I know that might sound daunting. But I promise you can do it. Here’s how:

First, take your butternut squash and cut it in half, so that you have a distinct round bottom.

Then, peel it. Yup, it’s just that simple. I have very good Kyocera ceramic peeler that my awesome brother-in-law got me for a birthday present last year which does a great job. Now, I’m not trying to sell Kyocera products (or even a specific brand of pressure cookers, for that matter) but, if you don’t think your peeler can handle peeling squash, then I would suggest purchasing a new, sturdier peeler. It should cost less than $15.

After you’ve peeled both pieces of your squash, cut the round bottom one in half, and scrape out the seeds. Then cut your squash into thirds, and then start dicing.

Yup, it’s really that simple.

Once you’ve cleaned your squash, prepare your risotto according to the instructions that came with your pressure cooker, and right before you put the lid on, dump the squash into the pot.

The squash will soften into the rice mixture and, by the time you unlatch the lid, become one with your risotto. I happened to have a rind of parmesan in my fridge which I tossed in pre-pressure, too.  In general, if you find yourself with just the rind of a piece of cheese, keep it in the fridge, and the next time you are making soup, toss it right in. It will add layers of rich flavor to your soup — or in this case, your risotto.

Latch things up, pressurize, cook according to your machine’s instructions, then blow off the steam. Here’s where you add the good stuff: butter and grated cheese. This time, I also threw in some sage from the bush out front. You could also go with goat cheese and rosemary, a la Grendel’s, if you prefer. And there you have it: a fast, simple dish made with pantry staples and one fresh veggie.