The wonderful thing about risotto is that you can take a few humble vegetables, stock, and arborio rice and you end up with an elegant, one-pot meal.  True, if you are not a well-practiced cook it might take a few tries to get it right, but once you know the basics you can make it a thousand different ways with excellent results.

There are a few things worth noting before you get started.  First, the dish needs a lot of supervising, so I like to have other projects going in the kitchen to keep myself busy, while having to constantly stir the pot.  For instance, you can clean and put away the dishes, bake something, or read a good book.  Just don't forget to keep stirring!  Second, keep an eye on the pot.  It is OK to walk away for a minute or two when you have liquid protecting the rice, but once you get to the stage when most of the stock is absorbed, that's when it is very important to keep stirring.  Otherwise, the ingredients will stick to the pot and make an unpleasant mess to clean up.  Lastly, once the risotto is ready you want to serve it right away.  I usually turn the heat off as soon as the rice is on the chalky side of al dente (soft enough to chew, but still a little "raw" in the center).  As I take a few minutes to get the table set, the rice has a chance to reach al dente perfection! 

This dish, in particular, is a more wholesome take on the traditional Italian risotto.  I use olive oil instead of butter and there is no wine or cheese (although, a grating of parmiggiano reggiano on top would be a lovely addition).  I find that when the butternut squash starts to dissolve it adds a body and creaminess that replace the need for cheese, and this dish has so much flavor you won't miss the wine at all.  I also like to add a handful of crispy kale on top, for some color and crunch (not to mention nutrients!).  Either way, it is a very comforting and satisfying dish that will help keep you warm through all those cold winter evenings. 

Winter Vegetable Risotto
serves 6

4-6 cups of vegetable stock
2 T olive oil
1 large leek, sliced and washed
4 cups butternut squash (about 1/2 a small squash), peeled and large-diced
1 cup arborio rice
2 cups crimini mushrooms (about 8 oz), chopped
2 T fresh sage, chopped
Crispy kale (optional)

Add stock to a small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce to low heat and keep warm on the stove.  In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high.  Add leeks and squash and saute until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.  Add rice and stir to combine.

Add a ladle of stock (or about 1/3 a cup) to the rice and stir well.  Continue to stir as the liquid is absorbed and when most of the liquid is gone, add another ladle.  Repeat this process of adding liquid and stirring until most of the stock is gone, or the rice is al dente (20 minutes or more).  Add mushrooms and sage in the last couple of minutes, stirring well to combine.  Serve immediately with crispy kale on top, if desired.