Dinner for 12: Roasted Squash Risotto and a trio of Salads

spinach with roasted asparagus, blood orange and toasted almonds.
If I had the authority to declare salad month, it would be March. Because it's midwinter and all the celebrating is done for a while and spring is nowhere near yet. And if you're in the midwest, you are living in a state of anxiety because winter hasn't yet arrived either. So spring is even farther off than usual. At this time of the year, unless you are heading for warmer climates, the only brightness you will find lies in a bowl.

roasted delicata, fennel, carrot and green apple with bean sprouts on mixed greens

I love many foods, but I crave salads. And the cravings are always dependent on the time of year. In the heart of the grey midwestern winter, what I want are beautiful salads, bright, bejeweled and a little gaudy. The nice thing is that these salads draw in the little ones too. The jewel-colored fruit and little bits and bobbits are irresistible to small hands and before you know it, some green stuff has made its way in too. Luckily, it's citrus season so these jewels are plentiful. And my stash of  cheerful orange winter squash is beckoning. So this week's recipes are all about salads and squash, and squash in salads (if you count the photo above). And some red beets, orange turnips, and purple cabbage. And of course, a creamy risotto to balance out all that roughage.

Winter Squash, Leek and Saffron Risotto
(adapted from From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide To Cooking Farm Fresh Seasonal Produce)

10 cups chicken stock
1 tsp saffron threads
6 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups finely chopped leeks (about three fat ones)
3 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
1 1/3 cup dry white wine
5 cups squash, roasted and pureed
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring stock and saffron to a simmer in a saucepan

2. Heat olive oil in a large heavy saucepan. Add leeks, cook over medium-low heat until softened (but not browned).

3. Raise heat to medium high and stir in the rice. Stir for 1-2 minutes and then add wine. Stir and cook until all the wine has evaporated. (At this point, if you had the time, you could refrigerate the rice for a half hour before continuing to make a killer risotto but it's still really delicious without the added step). Add 2 ladlefuls of hot stock and stir frequently until it is mostly absorbed. Continue to add stock and stir very frequently until the risotto gets creamy but still firm (the refrigeration helps keep the risotto firm). This should take about 25-35 minutes.

4. Pour yourself the remaining wine and channel Julia Child while you stir.

5. Stir in squash during the last 10 minutes. When risotto is done fold in the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Should be served immediately but, honestly, we served it the next day and while it's not award-winning in texture, it's just really stick-to-you-ribs delicious and filling. Good stuff.

Winter Salad with Creamy Tahini Dressing
(adapted from From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide To Cooking Farm Fresh Seasonal Produce)

Seriously, you should just buy this book. It's an unassuming gem and the recipes just really work. The recipe is meant to be utterly adaptable, a clean-out-the-back-of-the-fridge kind of recipe. I used a combination of cabbage, beets, carrots, celeriac, turnips and kohlrabi. Yes, all of that was lurking at the back of the fridge.

5 cups any combination of grated beets, carrots and red cabbage.
5 cups any combination of grated celeriac, turnips, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, green cabbage and winter radish. 

4 cups chopped kale and/or parsley
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 cups sprouts (optional)

4 cups chopped fennel

Toss all ingredients and serve with Creamy Tahini Dressing (below)

Creamy Tahini Dressing

3 tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 c tahini
1/4 c lemon juice
1/4 c sesame oil
1/4 c canola oil
1/4 c soy sauce, tamari or shoyu
1 tsp dried dillweed
1/4 c water

1. Toast the sesame on a dry skillet, tossing often, until fragrant and browning.I put it into a jar and just shake, shake, shake.

2. When cooled, mix sesame seeds with the remaining ingredients

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