One great thing about eating gluten-free and allergen-free–yes, there are a few great things! Let’s focus on those, Sally!–is that I am not nearly as tempted to eat all the holiday foods that people have lying around this time of year. Brownies and cookies and cakes at work and at parties: I look at them and imagine the end result–the unremediable headache or days of stomach ache or sinking depression or the rash on my chest, neck, and back that can result from just one bite–and I think, Nope, not worth it. And the truth is, those things tempt me not because I am hungry (I eat plenty, for Pete’s sake) but just because they are there, and they trigger a biological response; they are high in calories, and they taste good (usually), and therefore my body thinks I must need to load up on them. Now I have a way to keep that urge in check. (At least most of the time, that is–give me that bakery in Seattle that I plan to visit that has gluten-free, vegan (so egg-free and dairy-free) foods, and we’ll see what happens. I hope I will be able to keep myself in check with the firm knowledge that what tastes good equals misery–mentally, emotionally, physically–if it’s overeaten.)
But I digress. Another good thing about gluten-free, allergen-free eating is that it encourages me to eat things–tasty things!–that might otherwise fall off my radar screen. Last night, for example, I was flipping through my beloved Moosewood cookbook (the low-fat favorites one, though I find myself terribly tempted to buy the simple suppers one that is new now that I see it on the Moosewood website . . .) looking for a soup to make, and then I came across a risotto recipe that calls for kale and butternut squash. I just happened to have kale (red Russian kale) and butternut squash from my CSA this week, so I thought it was pretty perfect for me to make a risotto with them. Also, my husband and I ate risotto at a posh-wanna-be, rather icky restaurant recently, and I thought at the time, As I recall, I can make a much better risotto than this restaurant is serving.
So that’s what I did last night. Risotto–a fun dish, a bit labor-intensive with all that constant stirring, but great for a cold night . . . and not something I’d usually think to make, until my recent limitations developed, that is.
This risotto, like all risottos, is creamy and rich. (Risotto is a great option when you are craving something creamy and rich but don’t want the 800+ calories of your go-to creamy, rich foods.) This risotto is particularly delicious; honestly, my Moosewood cookbook has never let me down, which I can’t say about many cookbooks. The flavors of this dish blend together somewhat due to the nature of the cooking, but the contrast of the savory kale and the sweet butternut (or other winter) squash is great, and the addition of nutmeg, lemon zest, and pecorino (sheep cheese) at the end makes the various flavors pop.
Winter Squash & Kale Risotto
(modified from a Moosewood recipe)
4-5 c. vegetable stock
1 c. minced onions
1 T or so olive oil
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar, pref. 10-year-aged
1 1/2 c. arborio rice (the properties of arborio rice are what make the risotto creamy and nutty)
1/2 c. white wine
1 medium winter squash, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces to give you ~2 c. of squash chunks
~3 packed c. kale, stemmed and chopped
1/4-1/2 tsp. nutmeg
grated zest of one lemon (make sure it’s organic so you aren’t grating pesticides into your food)
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/4 c. grated Pecorino cheese, plus more for serving
The original recipe tells you to save time by chopping as you cook. Nay, say I: your risotto needs too much attention for that. Chop all your veggies and grate your rind and cheese before you start, or you’ll risk feeling harried like I did while making it.
In a small-ish saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a boil and then turn it to low.
Meanwhile, in a large, heavy saucepan (preferably non-stick) over medium heat, saute the onion in 2 tsp. of the oil and the balsamic vinegar for about five minutes, until softened but not completely browned. Add more oil, if necessary, to prevent sticking. Toss in the last teaspoon of oil and pour in the rice. Stir it with a wooden spoon to mix it well with the oil and onion. Add the wine, and stir some more. When it is absorbed (which will happen quickly), ladle in 1/2 cup of the veggie stock, and stir frequently over 2-3 minutes. When that stock is mostly absorbed by the rice, add another ladle of stock and stir it in. Once you have added two cups of stock in this method (which will take around 10 min.), add the kale and another ladle of stock, and stir them in. The kale will begin to reduce quickly–almost immediately. Add the butternut squash, and stir it in as well. Keep adding stock and stirring it in using the earlier method (i.e., lots of stirring), swirling your butternut squash and kale around in the process to make sure they get cooked well.
After about ten more minutes, your rice should be tender but still somewhat firm. Your butternut squash and kale should be cooked through; test a piece of butternut squash by biting into it. Yum. It should hold together in the pan but be soft enough to chew easily.
Add the nutmeg, lemon, salt, and pepper (being generous with your pepper), and stir well. Turn off the heat on that burner. Toss the cheese into the risotto, and serve immediately. As you can see, I served mine with extra cheese for sprinkling.
The cookbook suggests several additions to or substitutions for the kale, but I’ll make you buy the cookbook to see those!
Serves 4. For those of you who are counting, each serving has ~417 cal, 12 g protein, 7 g fat, and 11 g fiber (or 8 WW points).