KITCHEN MAVEN: Seasonal Winter Comfort Cooking

By Judith Yamada, Kitchen Maven

At this time of year, in my area, seasonal crops are limited due to cold and rain and all around less-than-ideal winter growing conditions. Yes, potatoes are always available during the winter season. Still, as delicious as those mashed or fried spuds are, they do get a bit boring by mid-February. However, there are other great fresh winter vegetable options. Two of my favorites are leeks and winter squash. They’re both appealing ingredients for their colors, textures, and nutrition. They’re especially tasty when prepared together in the same recipe, and they’re both low in calories.

Leeks are an excellent source of vitamin K, folate, B6 and C as well as a variety of minerals including manganese. An allium (like onions, shallots, garlic, and chives) they are big in flavor whether stewed, braised, sauteed or grilled. Leeks are also an excellent source of plant based (non-heme) iron. While plant-based iron is not as bio-available as heme (animal based) iron, it still makes healthy contributions to iron levels in the body. As for winter squash, it’s popular for many reasons including its sweet nutty taste and versatility. It’s well suited for both sweet and savory recipes, and is rich in vitamin A, C, manganese, and potassium, as well as fiber.

These two winter seasonal stalwarts marry beautifully in my Winter Squash and Leek Risotto. The result is colorful, flavorful, and loaded with nutrition. The recipe is fancy enough to serve guests, but easy enough for a mid-week family meal. Try it, on its own, sprinkled with fresh grated Parmesan and some crusty bread or salad or enjoy this comforting dish with roasted chicken or grilled salmon.

Winter Squash & Leek Risotto
This is a great, economical winter dinner, and makes a tasty light lunch anytime. It’s quite easy to prepare; just takes a little (stirring) time and patience. It also goes well alongside roast chicken or fish. I grow leeks in my garden plot, and they’re available all winter with a little digging and some thorough washing. I haven’t had luck with winter squash, but it’s readily available in the market all winter.

4-6 servings

3 cups cooked and peeled butternut (or other winter) squash*, cut in 1” cubes
2 medium sized leeks, trimmed and well washed between layers.
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil – divided
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine OR broth
1 quart mushroom broth OR vegetable broth, heated to warm
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup freshly shredded/grated Parmesan cheese

Cut off root ends and the dark green tops from leeks. Use only the white and lighter green parts of the leeks. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise. Wash very well between the layers. Wipe dry, and slice coarsely. Put 2 Tablespoons olive oil into a 12” saucepan. Heat the olive oil on medium just until the oil ripples. Add the leeks. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove leek slices from pan.

Add 2 Tablespoons olive oil to the same pan. Again, heat the oil on medium heat until it begins rippling; add the rice, coating it with oil and stirring often for 3 or 4 minutes to toast the rice. Slowly stir in the wine (OR 1 cup broth) until most of it is absorbed.

With a ladle, add ½ cup of the heated broth to the rice, stirring slowly but constantly until most is absorbed. Continue adding ½ cups of warm broth and stirring until all the broth has been absorbed into the rice. It will take about 20 – 25 minutes to do this, so get ready to chill for a while. Add salt and pepper. Stir and taste for seasoning.

Add the cooked leeks and squash back to the rice. Stir to heat, for about 4 minutes. Stir in the cheese and enjoy.

*To cook the squash in the microwave:
Add ½ cup water to a round microwave safe cake pan or pie pan. Cut the squash into chunks about 5” square, and place flesh side down in pan. Cover loosely with waxed paper and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Check for doneness. Rotate pan and microwave an additional 3-5 minutes, as needed. Cool completely and remove rind with a sharp paring knife. Cut the squash into 1” cubes.
Original: Kitchen Maven