Kabocha Squash Risotto

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One more semester at Otis is in the books, and I am beyond relieved to see the back of it. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, or at least parts of it—I made some cool stuff and learned a lot, but I have also never been more stressed in my life. I did make an entire book about immortality (no, I did not write it, but designing and crafting it are no piece of cake either), a website for myself (still in progress), and a video about good intentions gone wrong.

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I realize that Thanksgiving was a few weeks ago, but since I’ve been swamped with school stuff I never had a chance to summarize it for my Feast readers—and I can’t deprive you all of that. Therefore, here goes:

I drove my car up to Santa Cruz this time, seeing as Jonji’s Volvo is a goner. The little green car made it, safe and sound, and my legs only fell asleep once or twice. We beat all of the holiday traffic after leaving at 6:30 am, even though we had to stop three separate times until Jonji was satisfied that my tire pressure was OK. Kitty was a trooper, especially since we got her a new, larger carrier for her to sleep in.

The whole weekend was busy, what with seeing friends and family in the few days that we had up there. Jonji and I each spent Thanksgiving dinner with our respective families. My family was super adventurous in the meat department this year, cooking two pheasants (“Pheasant, Belby?”), four bacon-wrapped quail, and a bunch of sausages. I got to make the apple pie, which is one of my favorite things to bake. Dad used his handy apple-peeling device to get the apples ready for the pie while Matt acted as the official event photographer. The whole dinner was a success, and we finished off the night with a few rounds of Sequence by the fire.

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I also got a chance to partake in two hikes over the weekend, both of which were nose-freezingly cold but also much-needed forays into nature. Living in LA can make you miss trees more than you might think possible. The first hike was at Dad and Pippin’s favorite trail off of Empire Grade with Mom, Dad, Pip, and Emma. Pip got a workout trying to herd us all into one group, and excitedly showed us his favorite creek at the bottom of the ravine. The second hike was the day after Thanksgiving in the Soquel hills with most of the O’Regan clan, where we tramped through the woods and discussed topics such as reasons for Buddha’s jolliness and how to most selfishly eat cake.

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The rest of the weekend was filled with more family time and, of course, food. Bailey and I froze while each enjoying a glass of wine at Sones, where we people-watched from behind some barrels, then ventured over to Bantam to lurk at the bar and watch Emma work. I had the best glass of Riesling there, which I highly recommend, and Jonji joined us not long after and ordered a pizza for us three to share.

Sooner than we would have liked, we had to leave. Kitty, who was really enjoying her freedom around my parents’ house, had been drinking from all the water bowls nonstop. Therefore it was not a huge shock when she peed in her carrier on the way home. Other than that, we made it back to LA in good time and good health.

A few days after our return home, Jonji and I went to the Christmas tree lot. Last year we had been able to get a 5-foot tree for a reasonable price but this year, no doubt due to the drought, we only managed to get the smallest, 2.5-foot size. Still, even a small tree puts off enough tree-smell and light for me. Plus, Kitty likes the extra water bowl.

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It was honestly the best feeling today when I got to cook without having to think of how much homework time I would have afterwards. I made pumpkin pie ice cream, lemon curd for scones tomorrow, and then dinner. One of the dinner components was kabocha squash risotto—one of my favorite winter dishes. Sweet, soft squash melds with warm, starchy rice, onions, butter, and herbs to create a dish that could really be a meal in itself. Since I’m cold here in LA, I know everyone else must be cold too, so warm yourself up with this one. Side note: this requires a lot of over-the-stove time, so don’t plan to make any other super involved dishes to go alongside it.

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Kabocha Squash Risotto
serves 4–5

1 kabocha squash, seeded, skinned, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 tsp thyme leaves
1/2 tsp salt
pepper
olive oil

3 cups chicken stock
4 cups water

2 tbsp butter
1 yellow onion, diced
1 chile de arbol, crumbled
2 tsp thyme leaves
salt
pepper
2 cups arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine

3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Toss the squash chunks with a couple good glugs of olive oil, 1 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp salt, and some pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 15–20 minutes, until easily pricked with a fork. Set aside.

Boil the stock and water together, then turn it off and set aside.

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the 2 tbsp butter and, once it’s melted, add the diced onion, 2 tsp thyme, the chile de arbol, 1/2 tsp salt, and a few cracks of pepper. Turn the heat down to medium and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion has softened. Add the rice and half the roasted squash and cook for a couple minutes to toast the rice. Pour in the white wine and cook until it evaporates (this takes less than one minute).

Pour 1 cup of the broth/water mix into the rice and stir continuously until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Continue adding the liquid in 1 cup increments until all the broth is gone. Do not try to rush this—it may take half an hour to finish, but the risotto will not be as good if you pour in too much at once. You want the rice to be coated, not swimming, in the liquid before you add more. By the end, you want the risotto to be neither soupy nor dry.

Stir in the rest of the squash and let rest for two minutes. Stir in the parmesan, then the parsley and remaining butter. Taste for seasoning. Enjoy!

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