Monday, October 8, 2018

R is for: Risotto with Squash & Gorgonzola {a tribute to Kasey}

I first met Kasey Passen in January of 2002 while studying abroad in Barcelona my senior year in college. We were randomly paired as roommates with our host mom. She would confide to me later that she initially thought I was going to be an annoying sorority girl who she had nothing in common with.

She admitted that she couldn't have been more wrong.

We bonded over our shared experiences, travels, our moms' names (Wendy/Wendi) and perhaps most importantly, food. Our favorite way to see a new European city was always to sample the local flavors. As soon as our meal would arrive, we would immediately declare "you win" or "I win," referencing who had succeeded in ordering the better dish. It didn't matter though. We always shared everything.

Throughout the years, we didn't always stay in the best of touch, but we would always find our way back to each other. Whether it was during our overlap of living in San Francisco, or trips to see each other in our respective cities, it was the kind of friendship where you would pick up exactly where you left off before, as if no time had passed, laughing and landing ourselves in ridiculous adventures. And of course, eating and sharing amazing food along the way.

Kasey and I eating paella in Barcelona, circa 2002
I wish so much this post was about only that... Kasey, her love of food and our friendship. I'm heartbroken to write that this post is also a memorial. I learned on September 4th that this bright, wonderful soul had taken her own life. I was shaken. I was in disbelief. I was devastated.

For that reason, this is without a doubt the toughest blog post I've ever written. For the last month, I've tried to figure out a way to put into words my love for this wonderful human who is no longer with us. It was only fitting that it involve food.

Not only did Kasey share my love for food, but she had gone on to become a real chef, constantly evolving in the food industry to fit her own health needs and lifestyle as she simultaneously battled Lyme disease. She was a wonderful, enthusiastic teacher who led cooking classes at different points in her life, drawing on her travels for inspiration. As she detailed in a guest blog post she did for me a few years ago, she moved to Tuscany for four months after her time in SF, and was reenergized and inspired by the food and cooking in Italy. In 2011, she passed along some recipes from a class she had created on Italian cooking, which included two of her own risotto recipes. In an effort to keep her legacy and passion for food alive, I've decided to share one of her creations here.

I hope you treasure it as much as I do.


This recipe is actually perfect for this time of year, because it incorporates fall squash or pumpkin. Kasey was the first person to teach me about the differences between Carnaroli and Arborio rice. Arborio is most commonly found in supermarkets, but Carnaroli rice is even better if you can get it. It's a type of white short-grain Italian rice, and while in the Arborio rice family, the grain is larger, can absorb more liquid and yields a creamer finished product. It is grown in Piedmont or Lombardy, and considered to be one of the finest of the rices to make risotto. You would probably need to find it in a specialty Italian market, so if you are in a pinch (as I was), it's totally fine to use Arborio.


You will need about 3.5 cups of diced squash or pumpkin. Kasey recommended either butternut, kabocha or kuri. I went with butternut.


Once you've got your broth & wine simmering on a back burner, you can start the risotto. Melt the butter in a wide-bottomed saucepan or pot set over medium heat. Add the diced onion and garlic and sauté until the onions become very soft and translucent, 3 minutes. Add the diced pumpkin and sauté for another 4 minutes.


Next, add the rice and stir frequently until the edges of the rice start to become translucent, about 2 minutes.  Season with kosher salt and a little black pepper.


Add a ladleful (about a half cup) of the simmering broth to the rice, stirring occasionally until the liquid has been absorbed into the rice. Repeat this procedure until 3/4 of the broth is used. (About 20 minutes.)


This part is actually my addition, but I'm certain Kasey would approve. I decided to fry up some sage leaves to garnish the dish with, as it will add a little color, and the flavor pairs really nicely with the squash. You can do this during in between broth/stirring process as the risotto cooks. You only need to fry them for about 5-10 seconds and then drain on a paper-towel lined plate.


Once most of the broth is absorbed, you can add the Parmesan cheese. (Freshly grated is always best!)


As Kasey noted in her recipe, make sure to use a "good quality creamy Gorgonzola cheese." After the Parmesan, you will continue adding the broth and letting it absorb into the rice until the rice is tender, yet still with a bite. At this point, you can fold in the pieces of Gorgonzola cheese and turn off the heat.


Top with a little freshly grated nutmeg and the fried sage leaves and eat immediately!


Thank you, Kasey. For sharing this recipe, your love of food with the world, and more importantly, for sharing your friendship with me. This dish would definitely "win" if we ordered it together in Italy... and we are all winners for having known you despite the extreme loss we all feel right now.

Risotto with Butternut Squash & Gorgonzola

by Kasey Passen
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes
Keywords: saute entree butternut squash blue cheese gorgonzola rice Italian

Ingredients (4-6 servings)
  • 4-5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • ¾ cup of white Italian wine
  • 2-½ tablespoons butter
  • 1 yellow onion, small diced
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3.5 cups pumpkin, medium diced (Kabocha, Kuri or butternut squash are recommended)
  • 1 1/3 cup of Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 sage leaves
  • 3 oz Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 4-6 ounces good quality creamy Gorgonzola cheese, cut in small pieces
  • ½ tsp. grated fresh nutmeg, (optional)
Instructions
  1. Bring the broth and the wine to a simmer in a medium sized pot over moderate heat. When the liquid begins to simmer, lower the burner to the lowest setting and cover it. It should be barely simmering.
  2. Melt the butter in a wide-bottomed saute pan set over medium heat. Add the diced onion and garlic and sauté until the onions become very soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the diced squash and sauté for another 4 minutes. Add the rice and stir frequently until the edges of the rice start to become translucent, about 2 minutes. Season with kosher salt and a little black pepper.
  3. Add a ladleful (1/2 cup) of the simmering broth to the rice, stirring occasionally until the liquid has been absorbed into the rice. Repeat this procedure until 3/4 of the broth is used. (About 20 minutes)
  4. While risotto cooks, fry the sage leaves. Heat olive oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add leaves and fry on each side a couple of seconds until crispy. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and season with a little salt.
  5. Back over to the risotto... once 3/4 of the broth has been used, add the Parmesan cheese and season with more salt and a little black pepper. Continue adding the broth and letting it absorb into the rice until the rice is tender, yet still with a bite (you may not need all of the broth.) When rice is done to your liking, mix in the pieces of Gorgonzola cheese and top with freshly grated nutmeg & fried sage leaves. Serve hot.
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6 comments:

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. Even though it's been a month, I'm sure it is still painful. Thank you for sharing this recipe. Risotto is something I enjoy making, and I always like to add new twists to it. I think I'll have a go at this version soon.

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    1. Thank you so much Mike. I definitely got emotional writing this post, but I know Kasey would love to know people are making her food long after her death. I hope you enjoy it!

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  2. So very sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing all of this. The risotto looks incredible and I hope you make it and think of you and your dear friend while doing so, and I'll continue to pray for all of those struggling with mental health. It is such a devastating health crisis and we need to do better to take care of those struggling in this country ❤️

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    1. Thank you so much Allison. It definitely needs to be talked about more.

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  3. I'm sorry for your loss. You've mentioned her in many posts over the years. Heartbreaking, for that light to not be here anymore. This recipe is a beautiful tribute. Sourcing some nice Gorgonzola now.

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I would LOVE to hear what you think. I read every comment and get a little giddy when I see someone has left one on the blog. Thanks for stopping by!

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