candacecooks

Eat well. You owe it to yourself.

Month: October, 2013

Pumpkin Risotto

Some people view food as fuel only, and don’t care what they eat as long as it keeps them going. These people are content with cold cereal for dinner for days on end, or an identical lunch every day. Maybe they skip meals without even noticing, or don’t care when the sandwich they packed for lunch is (horror of horrors) soggy.

As you may surmise from the briefest glance at this blog, I am not one of those people.

I love food in an all-caps sort of way. I love to eat. I love to go out to eat. I love to cook, especially with friends. I love farmer’s markets. I love food that is fresh and flavorful and makes me feel nourished. Not that I’m picky – I worked at a children’s camp run out of homeless shelter that had an exceedingly tight budget for two summers. One day we had tacos, but instead of hamburger meat or chicken, it was pizza-grade Italian sausage. So yes, I will eat nearly anything. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere – for example, mine is strict on bugs, no matter how the strongly the U.N. recommends it. 

But that feeling of nourishment, of food satisfying a need deeper than that for fuel, often comes to me through the process of cooking. There is something about setting aside time to prepare a meal, of getting absorbed in the process of making food that is calming, almost sacred. Cooking, as opposed to baking, is dynamic and absorbing. With baking, you mix some stuff up and hope it comes out of the oven edible. Cooking takes attention to detail, creativity, and knowledge of the the way ingredients interact and change with heat and time.

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This is what I love about making risotto. It a process that forces me to take time, to slow down. Focus is a practice, and cooking risotto helps me focus, helps me organize my thoughts and breathe. It is endlessly adaptable – I’ve made it with mushrooms and bacon and red pepper and chicken and broccoli (not all at the same time). Today, to celebrate that it finally feels like fall, I made it with pumpkin. It’s a much more subtle pumpkin flavor than I expected, which makes it suitable for those who haven’t gotten the pumpkin bug that runs so rampant in the fall. I ate for lunch today with with toast and a spinach salad simply dressed with balsamic, olive oil, and salt. It was perfect.

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Pumpkin Risotto

Adapted from Bread & Wine: A Love Letter To Life Around The Table

Serves 6

3 tbsp olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small yellow onion, chopped

Salt & Pepper to taste

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2 cups white rice, preferably Arborio

1 cup dry white wine

7-8 cups broth of your choice

1 cup canned pureed pumpkin (Be careful not to get pumpkin pie mix!)

1 tbsp chopped Italian parsley (optional)

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved

In a medium saucepan, heat your broth. Keep warm on low throughout the process.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, cook for 10-20 seconds, or until sizzling. Add the onions, and cook for 5-7 minutes until soft and slightly browned. Add about 1 tsp salt, a few shakes of pepper, and the nutmeg. Add the dry rice, and stir until coated with the olive oil. Continue stirring for 3-4 minutes, until the rice is warmed and has a slight nutty smell. Add the wine. All the alcohol will cook out; however, you can choose to use another cup of broth for this step if you wish. Add the pumpkin and continue stirring. Turn down the heat to medium-low, so that the risotto never boils. Instead, it should have a few bubbles that pop up across the surface. I like to think of them as sinkholes. It should look something like this throughout the entire process: (Forgive the poor image quality)

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Begin adding the broth half cup by half cup over the course of 30-40 minutes, keeping it looking something like the picture above and stirring after each addition. Add salt and pepper as you go – how much you use will depend on how salty your broth is. If it tastes a bit bland at first, salt will brighten the flavor significantly.

The risotto is done when the rice is plump and without a hard center. Add the parsley and parmesan, and stir until thoroughly mixed. Serve with extra Parmesan sprinkled on top.

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Smashed Chickpea Salad

I love beans.

Seriously, I think they are a majorly underrated food. They are dirt cheap, protein and fiber rich, and, made in the right way, delicious. People who think beans are boring clearly haven’t tried this edamame salad. It’s so good. Go make it right now, I’ll wait.

And now that you’re back, I’ll tell about an even simpler recipe with beans that has been one of my favorite for a long, long time. I don’t know why I’ve never put this up before, I apologize.

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This Smashed Chickpea salad is almost a deconstructed hummus, which should be enough to get you to make this recipe right there. I’m really serious about hummus; it would probably make an appearance in my last meal. But Smashed Chickpea salad? This stuff is a solid contender. It’s not much to look at, but the way the flavors meld, especially if you let it sit overnight in the fridge, makes this recipe more than the sum of its rather humble parts.

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You can eat it straight from the bowl with a fork – I’ve been known to do that a time or two – or you can heap it on crackers, stir in some quinoa or your other favorite grain, or roll it in a pita. My favorite way to eat it is as an open faced sandwich, bread lightly toasted, and salad piled way too high.  You need this recipe in your arsenal for those busy days when you don’t have time to spare for cooking but you’re tired of frozen pizza. (I didn’t think that was possible either, but I seem to have hit that point.) It’s fast and filling without being too unhealthy, and it’s budget friendly. Also, vegan! Gluten free! Lactose free! With more friends than ever finding out they have food sensitivities, I am becoming a fan of recipes that include everyone, without making those who don’t have allergies feel deprived. This one certainly fits the bill. Image

Smashed Chickpea Salad 

Serves 2-3

1 can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lemon

1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

1/4 tsp pepper

2 tbsp finely diced red onion

1 tsp finely diced Italian parsley (optional)

Combine the chickpeas with in a bowl with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Smash with a fork until there are almost no whole beans. A larger bowl, especially with a flat bottom, will make it easier to get the chickpeas smashed well. Add red onion and parsley, and stir to combine. Serve how you see fit.