Fall is the season that puts culinary fashion into it’s most inspiring step. Every turn proves a new twist of inspiration, blending the seasonal transition of summer freshness into the cozier mysterious curves of indulgent comfort foods. This season has date night written all over it! And date nights need wow factor if you want them to end under the covers so let’s get those creative juices flowing!
Step 1 – Choose your seasonal favourites and make sure your date isn’t allergic to them. Mouth to mouth is best performed when both parties are conscious.
Autumn is all about the famous root vegetables – beets, turnips, squash, pumpkin, carrots – so if you’ve been on the summer juice craze keep those veggies handy they’re all super high in folate, B-vitamins and beta-carotene which means your stamina will be poppin! For my recipe of choice I get hopped up on butternut squash. It has a great texture which adapts amazingly to most dishes and has a slight sweetness to it which creates balance.
Step 2 – Choose your favourite comfort food to easily incorporate your seasonal selections. If you’re worried about the extra carbs and calories that fall cooking is known for do not stress! You can re-invent any of your favourite fall dishes into healthful balanced delights packed full of flavour and nutrition without all the dreaded fats. Don’t believe me? Keep reading:)
Step 3 – Rock the hell out of it! My go to comfort food of all time is an Italian classic, risotto. This dish is famous for it’s rich and creamy texture brought on mostly from whole milk butter, cheese & cold pressed olive oils which always brings with it the satisfied sounds of enjoyment.
However, I don’t do the dairy thing and prefer to not fall into a food coma halfway into my first glass of wine. The night is young and there is still dancing to be had! As a healthful alternative let’s make this dish vegan shall we? Show your date how trendy you are.
By simply replacing butter with soy free vegan butter (I use “Earth Balance” derived mostly from flax and pea protein), replacing milk & cheese with a combination of vegetable stock & avocado oil with the addition of seasonal pureed butternut squash you immediately boost your omega content, banish the trans fats, and add a lightness to the dish without sacrificing the creamy texture.
If you are a meat junkie a grilled chicken breast placed on top of this tasty treat would absolutely complete the dish entirely and boost the protein component for all your muscular needs.
Now Roll those sleeves up and rock out this recipe. Your date will be raving about your mad kitchen skills! If that package of butter starts to tempt you, just remember…it’s speedo season somewhere!
BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO
- 1 butternut squash
- 4 tbsp light olive oil
- 600ml vegetable stock
- 50g vegan butter (I use “Earth Balance”)
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 celery stick, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 140g risotto rice
- 100ml white wine
1. Heat oven to 200C. Peel the squash and separate the bulbous seed-bearing section from the slender end. Chop the slender end into 2cm cubes, toss in half the oil, season lightly and roast in the oven, stirring occasionally, until golden brown on the outside and soft in the centre, about 30 mins. Cut the bulb in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon – you can keep these to toast in the oven and sprinkle over salads. Chop the flesh into 2cm pieces. Warm the vegetable stock in a small pan, set over a low heat. Drop in squash and leave to gently poach.
2. While the squash is roasting, warm a medium-size frying pan over a gentle heat. Add the remaining olive oil and half the butter, followed by the onion. Cover and cook for 3 mins until the onion turns translucent. Stir in the celery, garlic, herbs and a few turns of pepper (no salt at this stage). Cover again and cook for a further 2 mins. Increase the heat slightly and stir in the rice. Stir, uncovered, for about 5 mins – this will help to develop the toasty aroma of the rice without burning the veg.
3. Turn up the heat, stir in the wine and let it bubble away to almost nothing. Reduce the heat and start adding the stock. Add one ladle at a time, stirring gently but constantly during each addition. The idea is to encourage the rice to absorb the liquid and soften, but also give up its starch to thicken the remaining broth. Don’t stir too aggressively or you will end up with a pan of mush. When the stock has been absorbed, it’s time to add the next ladleful and so on. It will take about 15 mins to reach the final ladle of stock. By this time the squash in the stock should have softened. Mash it up with the remaining stock and stir into the risotto.
4. Turn off the heat, dot the top of the risotto with remaining butter, cover, leave to rest for 2 mins, then stir through and check the seasoning. Spoon the risotto into shallow bowls and sprinkle the roasted squash on top. Serve.