Butternut Squash, Rosemary and Bleu Cheese Risotto

Autumn is here - hoorah, hoorah! Time for soups and roasts, baked goods and casseroles, root vegetables and squash. Time for nostalgia, walks in the woods, mulled cider, apple picking and donuts. Perhaps this poem by Bliss Carman (1861-1929) can express it better:

A Vagabond Song

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood -- 
Touch of manner, hint of mood; 
And my heart is like a rhyme, 

With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time. 

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry 
Of bugles going by. 
And my lonely spirit thrills 
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills. 

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir; 
We must rise and follow her, 
When from every hill of flame 
She calls and calls each vagabond by name. 

Yes, for two native New Englanders, autumn is a special time, "native to our blood," and this wonderfully creamy and flavorful risotto, made with butternut squash, rosemary and bleu cheese, seemed like the perfect way to celebrate its arrival. 

This particular recipe, one from Bon Appetit (February 2005) was just sitting in our Epicurious recipe box waiting to be discovered on this fine first full day of fall. And how perfect it is for Meatless Monday as well! Just taste it, and you will understand. 

Butternut Squash, Rosemary, and Bleu Cheese Risotto

5-6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded, diced (about 3 cups)
1/2 tablespoon butternut squash seed oil
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (divided)
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese

Bring chicken broth to a low simmer over medium heat. In a large bowl, toss diced squash, butternut squash seed oil and olive oil. Spread squash over a cookie sheet and roast at 425 for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Add squash and 1/2 amount of rosemary, and stir until coated with butter; cook another 2-3 minutes. Add rice and stir 2-3 minutes. Add wine and simmer until evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add 4 cups warm broth and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until rice starts to become tender. Add remaining broth by 1/4 cupfuls, stirring often, until rice is to desired tenderness. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in spinach and half and half, and again, season to taste. Remove from heat and stir in bleu cheese and remaining rosemary. Serve hot.

Kale and Leftovers Soup for Secret Recipe Club

Thank goodness for Secret Recipe Club, because the way this month has been, without it we would hardly have any new blog posts! But belonging to SRC is a commitment, so we had to cook and we had to post, and we're happy about that. In SRC, members are assigned other blogs, and they choose and make a recipe from that blog. This month, we were assigned Kate's Kitchen.

Kate says she lives to eat, and when you check out her list of labels, she utilizes all kinds of ingredients to make all sorts of culinary creations, with her husband Connie as her sous chef and "Chief Taster." We love it! Browsing through Kate's recipes was an amazing trip - from Agave Negro (a delicious-sounding cocktail that is definitely on our to-do list) to Zucchini Ribbons (made with lemon and basil - yum!) - and we had a tough time choosing. But in the end, it was the neighbor's garden that made the decision for us.

Yes, James' Sunflowers and More came through yet again, via a text from Barb asking if we could use some kale. Um, yes, please! It is a super-food, after all! So with kale in hand and in mind, we took another peek at Kate's Kitchen, and found this recipe for Kale and Sausage Soup. And we made it on one of those perfect early-fall days when it was sunny and in the low 60s.

The recipe called for sausage, and by luck, we had two links of Italian sausage left over from a quick sausage, peppers and onions dinner we had made a few days earlier. It didn't call for chicken, but we had some of that left over from a roasted chicken dinner we enjoyed (when we used the carcass and some wilting veggies to make a homemade stock) and thought, why not throw it in? So our version is "Kale and Leftovers Soup," and we loved the results. Here's to a great start to soup season! Thanks, Kate!

Kale and Leftovers Soup
slightly adapted from Kale and Sausage Soup from Kate's Kitchen

1 tablespoon olive oil
4-6 ounces (about 2 links) Italian sausage, removed from casing
2 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 new potatoes, peeled and finely diced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
5 cups homemade chicken stock (or canned, if necessary)
chili powder, to taste
cumin, to taste
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup cooked leftover chicken, diced
2 cups chopped fresh kale

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot. Crumble sausage and cook in oil until browned. Add minced garlic and diced pototoes, and cook until garlic is fragrant. Add tomatoes and beans, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add stock and seasonings to taste. Add chicken and cook for at least 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender and meat is warmed through. Add kale and cook an additional 8-10 minutes, until kale is tender. Enjoy!


What Are Those? - Mexican Sour Gherkins

As promised, here is a picture of the other never-before-seen produce Amy found at the Billings Forge Farmers Market:

These things that look like teeny-tiny watermelons are Mexican Sour Gherkins. They are a type of cucumber, as you can see in this picture:

We ate them as-is, and they had a sort-of bitter (sour, we suppose), kind-of citrusy, cucumbery taste. We hope we find them again, because if we do, we'd like to pickle them, or put them in a salad, or even use them as a garnish for a Bloody Mary. Yum!


Tomato Therapy

We know we keep saying we're tired, but it's the truth. Teaching isn't easy, and today after school, long before Chris even got home, Amy briefly hit a wall. She needed therapy. She tried retail therapy, but since the last paycheck she saw was in June, that wasn't going to work. Thankfully, though, therapy did arrive, in the form of slightly over four pints of cherry tomatoes from across-the-street neighbor, Barb, and her grandson James, of "James's Sunflowers and More," our friendly neighborhood farmstand (who even donate half of their proceeds to charity!).

We were worried that we wouldn't be able to do our annual cherry tomato roasting, since our own so-called garden is in a such a state of disarray, given that we were away for most of the summer. But in the last eleven years, if there is one thing we've learned, it's that we can count on our neighbors.

It took an hour and a half to wash and halve all those tomatoes and peel a head of garlic, but that was the point - that's the therapeutic part. Amy's always loves doing those type of tasks, you know, the ones you do over and over without having to think, like knitting, cross-stitching, filing, and apparently, halving over four pints of cherry tomatoes.

And right now, the oven is doing all the work and she's feeling much better, enjoying a well-deserved glass of wine and thinking of all the summery yumminess this past hour and half will provide in the dead of winter.

Our "recipe" for oven-roasted cherry tomatoes can be found here. And Barb and James? Thank you thank you thank you! We'll be bringing you a couple of jars to enjoy once they are done.


Purple Green Beans with Black Garlic

During a last hurrah outing the Thursday before school started, Amy stopped by the Billings Forge Farmers Market in Hartford. Why did it have to be a "last hurrah"? Alas, this market is only open on Thursdays from 11 to 2, and that's pretty much prime school time, so we can never make it. But we have a soft spot for this particular market, because it is located in Frog Hollow, the Hartford neighborhood where Chris lived for ten years before we bought our house. 

During that time, Frog Hollow was in need of some revitalization, and the Billings Forge Community Works brought just that, transforming an old forge in an urban neighborhood into a true community force. Partnering with one of the best farm-to-table restaurants in Connecticut (and neighborhood employer), and consisting of a studio/community space, a teaching kitchen with a bakery/cafe, a community garden, apartments, and a youth program in addition to the market, the Works is doing a world of good. 

So, for the last time for a long time, Amy headed to the market before meeting friend Joanne for a grown-up lunch (also, for the last time for a long time). And she found something she had never seen before! Purple green beans! They turn green when you heat them! So here they are: purple green beans that we sauteed in ghee and tossed with black garlic for a delightfully interesting (and colorful) side dish made with odd ingredients. 

For information about the Billings Forge Farmers Market and all the great things happening at Billings Forge, go here or here. And stay tuned, because there is one other thing she bought at the market that she had never seen before, and we will tell you about it soon.

Purple Green Beans with Black Garlic

1 tablespoon ghee
4 cloves black garlic, roughly chopped

Snip the ends of the beans and cut them in half. Melt ghee over high heat in a large saute pan. Toss in beans and allow to cook, untouched, for 4-5 minutes, until nicely seared. Add the garlic and toss. Cook another 4-5 minutes and serve hot.