Roasted Butternut Risotto with Pan-fried Cod & Salmon

Whether the weather outside is frightful or delightful, creamy risotto always fits the bill: either hunkering indoors while the weather gods dither or warming up after a day of cavorting in crisp fall air. Here, roasted butternut squash provides a rich and satisfying foundation for an unexpected foil — curry-dusted wild salmon and cod.

This unlikely fusion came about this way: we had only one cod and one salmon filet in the freezer, we had roasted butternut squash in the fridge, and I was craving risotto. Butternut squash risotto was a no-brainer, but I wanted fish, too. Well, butternut soups are often seasoned with curry powder, ostensibly the spices act as a foil to the rich squash; and we often pan-fry fish dusted with curry spices, so it seemed like there was potential there. But how to tie the seemingly disparate classics, Italian risotto and Indian spiced fish? Answer: Two spices that are found in neither classic recipe but which compliment both and literally marry them in perfect union.

The key turned out to be using chicken broth infused with fresh ginger and cinnamon, which lifted the flavor of the butternut brilliantly without taking over. Both are also used extensively in Indian cooking and so did not fight with the curry spices in the fish. T prefered the cod with the risotto, while I liked the richer flavor of wild salmon better with this combination.

Although this recipe developed as a way to use ingredients we already had on hand, this combination was a winner with us both and something we will plan for in future. Although this recipe may look daunting at first glance, it’s really and truly quite do-able when you roast the squash ahead of time — throw it in when you have something else going in the oven anyway. We had roasted squash on hand for this recipe because we roasted it when we were baking Stuffed Tomatoes earlier in the week. And enriching a store-bought chicken broth with ginger and cinnamon is something that requires little attention from the cook as it simmers on a back burner. Go on, you can do this.

Last Friday evening, the weather was in fact quite dreary and wet most of the day. But with a warm and colorful bowl like this to cheer us indoors, we say, “Let it drizzle, let it drizzle, let it drizzle!”

Whenever I make risotto, I still hear Valentina Harris, author of “Risotto! Risotto!” in my head coaxing and wooing risottos to their creamy finish. Chef Harris was our guest risotto instructor at Leiths, and the method I follow is hers although this recipe is my own.
(For 4 persons)

Prepare the Squash:
2.5 lb or 1kg butternut squash, washed well
2 TBL olive oil

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds.

Oil baking pan, and place squash in pan with the cut side down. Place in cold oven and set temperature to 350F/180C. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until the flesh is pierced easily with a knife.

Cool for at least 20 minutes (or completely if doing this step 1 or more days in advance). Scoop out flesh — it will be pretty smooth and creamy, but you can blend or puree it to ensure a uniform texture (I don’t dot this) and set aside.

*Squash can be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated. Re-heat in microwave to heat through before continuing.

Prepare Broth for Risotto:
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 slim finger of ginger, well scrubbed and sliced lengthwise
1 stick of cinnamon

Bring all broth ingredients to a rapid boil in a 3 or 4 qt/L saucepan. Reduce heat to medium, cover and allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Ready to use, but for deeper flavor, allow broth to cool with ginger and cinnamon. Remove ginger slices and cinnamon, and return to full boil for 10 minutes before continuing with risotto.

Leave broth on low simmer while making risotto.

Prepare the Fish:
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
scant 1/4 tsp cayenne (red chili) powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp garam masala
juice from half lemon, about 2 TBL
1 filet Alaskan cod, about 6 oz/ 170g
1 filet wild Alaskan salmon, about 6 oz/ 170g
2 TBL olive oil

Combine coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt and garam masala.
Cut each filet into 1-inch pieces.
Toss fish with lemon juice, and coat with spice mixture. Set aside to marinate for 20-30 minutes while you finish risotto.

For the Risotto:
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 TBL olive oil
2 TBL unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup Carnaroli rice (if using arborio rice, you may need only 5 cups of broth)
1/4 cup brandy
2 cups/360g warm roasted butternut squash puree
6 cups Infused Chicken Broth, kept simmering and with a soup ladle nearby

As always with risotto, have all ingredients ready and within easy reach before starting.

In a 5-6 qt/L pan, cook onion with oil and butter over medium heat until onion is absolutely translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Increase heat to medium high.

Add rice, and stir well to coat with oils. Allow to cook for another 40 to 60 seconds, until the rice starts to squeak or squeal. Add brandy, and stir well. When all liquid has been absorbed, add one ladle of simmering broth, stir in and allow broth to be completely absorbed. Add second ladle of broth, stir until broth is absorbed. Add third ladle, stir, absorb.

Add butternut squash puree, and stir through with rice. Continue adding broth one full ladle at a time, stirring continously and allowing liquid to be absorbed each time before more is added. This will take another 10-12 minutes.

Cover and let rest while finishing fish.

Pan-fry Fish:
Pre-heat skillet over medium high heat.
Gently pat dry fish pieces, being careful not to rub off spices.
Add 3 TBL oil to skillet, and add fish, being careful not to crowd pan.
Brown fish on all sides. Remove to warm plate, and repeat with any remaining fish.

To serve, place one-fourth of risotto in warmed bowls, and top with fish and chive or scallion garnish. The richness of the risotto and spiciness of the fish promise that this dish can hold its own against a fruity red wine. Our go-to weekday wine is Trader Joe’s Charles Shaw, and we called on a Merlot for this experimental meal, and it was fine. But now that we have reclassed this unlikely combo as worthy of a special occasion, next time we will look deeper in the cellar.