Spicy Squash Risotto with Brown Rice

After my “Manhattan vacation”, I arrived home to a fairly barren kitchen. The remnants were all leftovers from taco night last week. A lone summer squash that never got grilled. Half a red onion from making the pico. Leftover chipotle-lime crema. They all make an appearance in here, along with some toasted pumpkin seeds and brown rice (thank goodness for pantry staples). The result is a risotto that tasted WAY better than it looks.

I’ve been reading a lot lately on frugality, and making the most of what you have. For my life, I decided it’s better to own my time, to do what I want with it, than to spend 40 (or more) hours a week doing something someone else wants me to do, in exchange for money. I know, it’s a pretty bold commitment, but I figure if I can work enough to pay the bills (and hopefully at something I enjoy doing and has meaning to people), then I have the rest of my week for things like cooking, photography, yoga, reading, family, relationships, cats, etc. So, I’ve been working really hard at this frugality thing, making do with what I already have (which is quite a lot, compared to a lot of people), and not shopping for that new flat screen TV (or in my case, that Kitchen Aid stand up mixer). To me, this has bigger implications than just my own life. “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse” (with Recycle being a last resort) is of course good to our planet and all that, but it’s also good for my wallet and and mind. I love the creativity that comes from trying to make something work without the latest new gadget, or the freshest produce in the fridge. This “Leftover Risotto” is proof that good things can come from this.

I encourage you not to make this recipe exactly how it is written, but step into the kitchen with a fresh mind, think outside the box, and cook dinner with what is left from yesterday’s meal.

No, brown rice is not the traditional risotto rice. Many recipes that call for brown rice risotto ask you to parboil the rice, to shave off some time. If you don’t, you’re looking at over an hour of stirring. However, I’ve found a better way! Since brown rice will never really get creamy all by itself, I’ve taken out most of the stirring. After boiling out the alcohol, we just add a bunch of hot water, cover and let it cook. Open back up, stir in some veggies and more water, then cover and cook again. Between the squash that practically melts away and the creme fraiche, we’ve got plenty of creamy. Pretty much any dairy will give you creaminess, or use a light miso. And with all that creaminess, I like to add something to crunch on:

Spicy Squash Risotto with Brown Rice

1 T. butter or olive oil, or a combination of both
1/2 an onion (I used red) finely diced
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 c. short grain brown rice
1/2 c. beer or white wine
1 medium summer squash or zucchini, grated
1/4 c. pumpkin seeds

Chipotle-Lime Crema:
1/4 c. creme fraishe (or sour cream)
Juice of half a lime
a few pinches of chipotle powder (or more to taste)

Heat the butter and/or oil in a wide heavy bottomed pot or saucepan over medium low heat. Add the onion and salt, and cook until onions are just translucent, 4-5 minutes. Pour in the rice, stir to coat, and toast for 2-3 minutes. Add the beer or wine, bring to a simmer, and cook until most of the liquid is gone, stirring frequently.  Add enough water to cover the rice, 1 1/2 cups or so, stir then cover. Make sure it’s simmering (adjust the heat if necessary) and cook for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the pumpkin seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat. Shake a few times and cook them until one pops, and they start to smell fragrant. Be sure not to burn them.

Also make the crema by combining all ingredients in a small bowl and stirring until well combined.

After 30 minutes, lift the cover off the rice and add in the squash. Stir well, add more hot water, another cup or so, and cover again. Simmer for another 15 minutes, then check up on it. Stir it well, then taste. You may need to add more water and cook some more until it’s done. Mine took about another 10 minutes of adding a little water, stirring, letting the water simmer until mostly dry, then tasting and repeating. Brown rice risotto can be a bit finicky at times, but when it’s well cooked, it’s really delicious. Grains that are hard and sticky in the middle will just ruin a risotto, so be patient.

When it’s done, stir in half the crema. To serve, spoon into bowls and top with the pumpkin seeds and the rest of the crema (if it’s really spicy you may want to serve it on the side, then let people add as much as they like).

serves 3-4.

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Lemony Zucchini Risotto in the Food Matters Cookbook.

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