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Stirring Risotto as Self-Care

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Stirring Risotto as Self-Care

My love of cooking was born about ten years ago, when I was doing my master’s degree at Ryerson in Toronto. A friend Amy helped me get a part-time serving job at the cooking school she worked at, Dish Cooking Studio. Working at the cooking school helped me pay my bills while I was a student, and it also enabled me to pick up techniques and tricks from a variety of amazing local chefs who taught classes at Dish.

Since then, cooking has been a form of self-care for me. At the end of a busy day, I love spending an hour (although not much more than an hour on a weekday!) in the kitchen, listening to a podcast while chopping and stirring. My day job is largely comprised of time spent sitting in front of a computer, so devoting an hour to moving around and using my hands is a nice counterpoint to the workday.

When my late fiancé Rob and I started dating, he wasn’t much of a cook, or a ‘foodie’. Gradually, though, he caught my passion for food, and became more interested in cooking and trying different recipes. There were some misses, like the time he rubbed an entire rack of ribs with a thick coating of ground cloves, but there were also a number of recipes that had long been standards in my repertoire that he took on, and to which he added his own twists.

When he died, my interest in cooking evaporated. I gratefully ate the casseroles and jars of soup my friends and family prepared, and for the most part, stayed out of the kitchen. There were certain dishes, like a Mexican tortilla soup recipe we had both loved, that I thought I’d never make again, because even though I had introduced it to him, Rob had made it so many times that it was his, too. He got really into making stock, and would let a big pot simmer on the stove for hours to use as the basis for other recipes.

Eventually I felt something pulling me back to the kitchen, because cooking has always been a way for me to express love, to family and friends, and to myself. One thing that I particularly love to make is risotto. I know, it takes a long time and involves a lot of stirring, but I find the process meditative, and the product worthy of the effort required. I like using seasonal vegetables in risotto; asparagus or peas in the spring, tomatoes and basil in the summer, and right now, while we’re deep in root vegetable season, this Squash Risotto with Fried Sage recipe from Jillian Harris and Tori Wesszer’s Fraiche Food, Full Hearts has been in heavy rotation at my house. Even though I don't have Rob's stock to use as a base anymore, cooking risotto still reminds me of him.

Fraiche Food, Full Hearts is one of the first cookbooks we decided to order for Lost + Found, because we had all been longstanding fans of Jillian and Tori, and the recipes are healthy but also delicious, which is kind of our sweet spot. 


Excerpted from Fraiche Food, Full Hearts, with permission from Penguin Canada

Serves 4 to 6

Risotto is the food equivalent of a hug in a bowl, and this squash risotto takes comfort food to a new level. Roasting the squash brings out its natural sweetness; if you don’t feel like dealing with the hassle of peeling the acorn squash (those ridges can be such a pain in the you-know-what), simply replace it with more butternut squash, which has a sweeter flavour. We love the colour and contrast of using both, but the choice is yours. Risotto takes time to make, so pour yourself a glass of good wine, turn on some chill music, and warm up your stirring arm!

  • 2 pounds (900 g) acorn squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch (1 cm) cubes
  • 3 pounds (1.4 kg) butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch (1 cm) cubes (3 cups/750 mL), divided
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) + 6 tablespoons (90 mL) olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 cups (750 mL) finely chopped  yellow  onion, divided (1½ large onions)
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed, divided
  • 10 cups (2.4 L) vegetable stock, divided
  • teaspoon (5 mL) fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) fresh sage leaves (about 12 leaves)
  • 2 cups (500 mL) arborio rice
  • 1 cup (250 mL) white wine (we use pinot gris)
  • ½ cup (125 mL) grated parmesan cheese or Vegan parmesan, more for serving
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place the acorn squash and 1 cup (250 mL) of the butternut squash on the prepared baking sheet, spread it out evenly, and drizzle with ¼ cup (60 mL) of the olive Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Roast until the squash is soft and golden brown on the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add 1 cup (250 mL) of the onions and cook until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add one clove of crushed garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the remaining 2 cups (500 mL) butternut squash and 2 cups (500 mL) of the vegetable stock and simmer until the squash is very soft, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Purée using an immersion blender or high-speed blender. You may need to add more stock to get a thinner purée. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  4. In a small frying pan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of the olive oil. Add the sage leaves and cook until they are crispy but not turning brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the fried sage leaves to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside.
  5. In a large saucepan, bring the remaining 8 cups (2 L) vegetable stock to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cover.
  6. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the remaining 2 cups (500 mL) onions and cook until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining 2 cloves crushed garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  7. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes to gently toast the rice.
  8. Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed into the rice. Stir in 1/2 cup (125 mL) of the hot vegetable stock and cook, stirring, until the stock is absorbed into the rice, about 2 minutes. Repeat, adding 1/2 cup (125 mL) stock at a time and stirring until each addition has been fully absorbed into the rice and it becomes thick, until the rice is creamy and soft with a slight bite to it, 20 to 25 minutes. You may not use all the stock.
  9. Stir in the roasted squash, Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.
  10. To serve, ladle a few spoonfuls of the squash purée into shallow bowls and spoon the risotto in the centre of the purée. Garnish with additional parmesan and a few crisp sage leaves and serve immediately.

VEGAN: Use vegan parmesan

GLUTEN-FREE: Use gluten-free stock



Image credits: Penguin Canada