ll Cibo é L'essenza Della Vita....

"The rooms that you use on a daily basis are the rooms people will always want to sit in, because they have soul." --Bunny Williams


"If you want to live forever and ever, drink wine and eat maccheroni." ~~~Sicilian Proverb

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Comfort food means different things to different people. Personally, I think of comfort food as warm, cozy, enveloping and (obviously) delicious. When I'm feeling the need I usually turn to a rich, hearty pasta, a fabulous soup or stew, or a creamy risotto. My oldest son informed me that comfort food, to him, was a cheeseburger and fries. I honestly wonder if they switched him in the hospital. How could he be MY child?  
   Today was a comfort food day. With some butternut squash handy, it was an easy choice.

 Now some people might just boil or steam the squash, but I was looking for that rich, sweet, caramelized flavor (I REALLY needed the comfort) so I sprinkled a little olive oil on the chunks and added a healthy dose of salt and pepper-into the oven it goes. It comes out gorgeous and slightly browned and caramelly on the edges. Just ignore that beautiful fennel back there-that's a whole 'nother story.

Ooooh, look what I found. I had forgotten the fresh sage I had left, but I'm definitely going to take advantage of my lucky find. I love the velvety feel of fresh sage and the aroma-mmmmm...

A little oil in a small saucepan, a 20 second fry, and VOILA-total deliciousness
Sizzle, sizzle.....

Look-they're mating! WooHoo!!

Fried sage leaves are a very traditional Italian specialty. Sprinkled with a bit of salt, they beat out any Lays chip as far as I'm concerned. Here, I'm going to use them as a garnish-I can pretend I'm being healthy. (After all, I could have used bacon.) Next up- the broth. When I was growing up, my two Italian grandmothers were my best friends. One was Sicilian and one was from Northern Italy, so I always felt that I got the best of both worlds. They were both fantastic cooks and I learned their secrets to all the regional specialties I grew up on. My Nonna Norma was my Northern Grandma. Risotto was made frequently in her kitchen and she was very particular about using fresh foods, herbs and seasonings. Vanilla beans are pricey, but when I'm making her risotto I splurge. She never used bottled vanilla and in her recipes, neither do I. 
Split the bean-the smell coming out of that bottle is heavenly. I could sit here all night sniffing
Obviously, I'm a very cheap date. Doesn't take much to make me deliriously happy..

Scrape out all the good stuff, then throw it all (seeds and pod) into a pot of simmering broth. Now, I might sometimes use chicken stock, but since I haven't gotten around to making any today, some boxed vegetable broth will work just fine. Like I said, I'm easy

Now comes the fun part. That's REAL butter people. No fake stuff in this house

Chopped onions. I sometimes can't believe how many onions we use. They go in everything. Anyway, Coat them with that lovely butter and cook till they're just starting to look a little toasty. Aren't they beautiful? 

Now the rice. Now this isn't just any old rice. This is the rock star of rices (to any good Italian, anyway). This is Arborio. Or Canaroli. Either would work. Short-grained, plump, and cooks up creamy and rich. Coat with the butter and onions and cook for a few minutes till translucent. This is a good time to throw in a little salt and pepper. The transformation is beginning...

Wine. A good 1/2-3/4 cup. And then some in a glass-that's crucial to the outcome of this dish. (like I said, I really, really need comfort today). 

When the wine is absorbed, I start ladleing in a bit of that simmering broth-which, by the way, smells AMAZING. Now while this is simmering, and absorbing, and transforming, I hear you asking me WHY exactly I need comfort today. Well, here's the thing. One of my children, who shall remain nameless, (look at the header of this blog) and is my one and only daughter out of 6 children, is going to her first high school formal tonight. How wonderful, you say? Well, it WAS wonderful and exciting, and sweet UNTIL she casually mentioned "the boy". Now this "boy" is a new "boy". One we haven't met yet (we will tonight). The "boy" bought her ticket, and will be her official "date". The "boy" is 18. And drives a car. (which she will NOT be riding in) Her father is howling-"She is not dating a boy who's old enough to drive! NO dating till she's at least 16!" "Umm, honey, she'll be Sweet 16 in 3 weeks and SHE will be driving". Silence. Then "Are you insane? She's a baby!!"  I really, really, really need comfort. My baby girl is growing up. And she's beautiful. And I'm scared. And sad. And excited. Pass the wine. Still waiting and ladleing. Browsing blogs and downloading her baby pictures. Notice the crutch back there? It's mine- I need comfort

Have to take this over the top. Plop in some butter and some fresh Parmesan. This is creamy goodness at it's best. 

A little more pepper, some grated nutmeg... 

Time to go find the baby book (and make a manicure appointment!)

Molto Buono!
Thank you so much for visiting today and allowing me to be a little emotional.
Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

4-6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 large vanilla bean
3-4 cups peeled cubed (1-inch wide) butternut squash
2 tablespoons butter, plus 1 tablespoon
1 large finely chopped onion 
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice 
1/2-3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup or so freshly grated Parmesan
salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg

Roast cut up butternut squash- 425 degrees for about 20-30 minutes with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper.
In a medium saucepan, warm the broth over medium-high heat. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and add them, and the bean, to the broth. When the broth comes to a simmer reduce the heat to low. 
Meanwhile melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until tender. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Cook a few minutes till translucent Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition to of the broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20-25 minutes total. Discard the vanilla bean. Turn off the heat. Gently stir in the butternut squash, Parmesan, the remaining tablespoon of butter, and salt. Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl and sprinkle with fried sage leaves. Serve immediately.

Fried Sage Leaves
Heat 1 inch of oil in a 4-quart heavy saucepan until it shimmers. Fry sage leaves in batches, stirring, 15-20 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, then season with salt.

P.S.- We dropped her off. We met the "boy". He held her hand as they walked away. I really need comfort. 
Have fun, Allie. We love you 


  1. Oh my... I totally feel for you. I have 4 kids, 2 of each. The boys were a breeze, but my oldest girl is just a little younger than yours and I cringe at the thought of her first date.... AHHHHHH! I can hardly take her to the store without all the glares and stares from boys and men alike. God help us!


  2. Lock Allie up till she's what maybe 21 or even 25.........sorry Allie b ut you are adorable.

    Risotto dang good comfort food I say.....fried sage haven't thought of doing that in a long time.

  3. Rice of any kind is my comfort food. And this would be especially comforting. And Allie, you look maaaaaaahvelous! Hope you had a great time.

  4. You got a smart girl there, Pattie! I can't believe that the kind of dancing Allie saw is even allowed at a school dance!
    And while I'm not a squash fan, that food sure looks good!!! Of course any food that someone else cooks usually looks better to me than food I cook, lol!

  5. After my little kitchen, I envy you all that space! Wow! But I agree about the pantry -- it's a paltry pantry -- you NEED a bigger one. My ideal house would have a Butler's Pantry (for the dishes, glasses and cutlery), the kitchen (where the food would be prepared) and a larder (where the food would be stored). Alas, my kitchen is only 10 by 10 -- it doubles as all three!

    Love the risotto -- it's wonderful food.

  6. Allie is such an adorable girl. I so understand where you are coming from. Mine isn't dating yet, but I will feel the same way when she does.


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