I had a moment of panic today when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to make this dish. You see, this week has been a test of my fortitude as a single girl living in the city.
It is shockingly expensive to rent in Washington, DC. Of course, there are cheaper options. You can live out in Virginia or Maryland. You can live farther from a metro stop. You can live in seedier areas. But, being a single girl, I have needs. Those needs being I need to live somewhere I feel safe walking alone at night, because that is something I do pretty often (don’t tell my mom). And I need to live fairly close to public transportation, because I don’t have a car, and I don’t want to be trekking 15 blocks by myself at 1am on a Saturday night. I tried the Virginia thing, but an hour commute was just too much for me. And I love being in the city. So, in order to have all these things, I have roommates. Three of them. We share a fairly old house that has not been kept in great shape by the landlord. But the location is amazing. And at least for now, it still has walls and a ceiling.
In addition to three roommates, I also have a bevy of mice. They showed up when it got cold in the fall, and have pretty much been outsmarting me ever since. They eat the bait right off my spring traps without setting them off. They aren’t tricked into eating the poison. They find ways to get on the counters even after I think I’ve removed all possible routes from floor to counter. But today, just as I’m sitting down to the quesadilla I made for lunch, I hear my roommate scream my name from the kitchen. I come running, and when I get there she yells “MOUSE.” I assume she has seen another mouse running across the floor. That happens at least once a week, and that is the reaction she usually has. But no! This time, it’s a mouse caught in my trap! And, apparently, I am going to be the one to dispose of it. While my roomie watches from a safe distance, I throw on some gardening gloves and toss the little guy into a plastic bag, and run it out to the trashcan in the alley. But, while this was less than fun, it was by no means going to stop me from making risotto.
What was going to stop me was the fact that when we woke up this morning, our kitchen sink had clogged right up. We have a garbage disposal, and I’m not pointing any fingers, but I think some things go down in there that should not be. With a few inches of what looked like disgusting soup in the sink, I shoved my hand down into the disposal, hoping I’d be able to pull out whatever was clogging it. No such luck, but the water did slowly drain out over the next few hours. Then my roommate decided to run the dishwasher, since we couldn’t do any dishes in the sink. Of course, that resulted in about six inches of even more disgusting looking water backing up into the sink AND the dishwasher. Getting desperate and wanting to be able to make risotto, I called a plumber to see what it would cost to have someone come out. After learning that it would be over a hundred dollars, I called my dad. Some girls are lucky and have their dads nearby to come over and help with these types of disasters. My dad is eight hundred miles away, so I was on my own, but he talked me through it on the phone, and after some aggressive plunging, we got the drain cleared!
Feeling victorious after my morning of mouse hunting and amateur plumbing successes, I was ready for risotto. This is my version of the previously mentioned delicious risotto I had during restaurant week at Bistro Bis. They included wild mushrooms and sage butter, which I’ve left out. I also opted for shallots in place of onion, for no reason other than that I love shallots. You could switch out for half a white onion if you so desired. I used Bosc pears here (Anjou would also be a good choice), and the beauty of roasting is that you don’t have to wait for them to be perfectly ripe. In fact, it’s better to use slightly unripe pears, so they don’t get too mushy.
Butternut Squash and Roasted Pear Risotto
Inspired by Bistro Bis, adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe
Makes 4 servings
2 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cups butternut squash (cut into ½ inch cubes)
2 pears, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 ½ tbsp butter
4-5 shallots, chopped
½ tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Cut pears into ½ inch cubes (it’s helpful to cut pear into four quarters, coring to remove seeds, and then cutting sections into cubes). Heat small skillet over medium heat and when hot add 1 ½ tbsp butter. When butter is melted, add pears. Let cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pears are browned slightly and softened.
Heat chicken broth in small pot and keep warm on the stove until ready to use. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in heavy large pot over medium high heat. Add squash and sauté until beginning to soften and brown around edges, about 5 minutes. Transfer squash to medium bowl and set aside.
Reduce heat in large pot to medium, add remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil, thyme and shallots to pot and stir until tender, about 5 minutes. Add rice and stir 1 minute. Add wine and simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently. Add 1 cup warm broth and simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently. Add remaining broth by ½ cupfuls, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next, stirring often. You should end up using about 2 ½ cups of the broth.
Add butternut squash and pears back into risotto, stirring gently to incorporate, and continue to cook a few more minutes until rice is tender and creamy. Remove from heat. Stir in freshly grated parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.