It has been good to have time to roll-up my sleeves and cook. Many times it is those simple creations that are the most enjoyable to make. A few unusual ingredients tossed together create a memorable dish. Cooking is very forgiving, unlike baking. Improvising is the key to flexing your culinary muscles.
I recently had the chance to meet up with Chef Josiah Slone at his restaurant Sent Sovi. He prepared a dish for me that will appear in the next edition of Silicon Valley Edible. It is beautifully simple, fresh and delicious. That dish in some way inspired me to create this very light summer pumpkin quinoa risotto (have I peeked your curiosity yet?).
I’ll be honest, I had been thinking about creating a dish with quinoa, but when it came down to preparing it, the fresh ingredients I used were all things that I had in the refrigerator. I tell you this because I think it is important to improvise. The simplest way to do this is to begin with basic substitutions like swapping ingredients — quinoa replaces Aroborio rice (cooking time is greatly adjusted), you could easily exchange the shallot for fresh garlic or ½ finely chopped medium size onion, pumpkin could be replaced with zucchini, and spinach and kale could be interchangeable as well. The key thing to take into account is how soft you like your vegetables. Pumpkin will cook more quickly than thick slices of zucchini for example. Usually the first time I make a recipe I follow the directions exactly- but once I have insight into the textures and the flavor combinations, I like to experiment from that point forward.
The textures in this dish just work. The nutty flavor of the quinoa blended with the saltiness of the broth and Parmesan cheese combine perfectly with the buttery soft squash texture. The spinach and mushrooms intermingled into this summer ‘risotto’ bring a fresh earthy flavor to the palate. This recipe is perfect as a standalone or side dish.
Summer Quinoa Pumpkin ‘Risotto’
1 cup red quinoa
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 TBS olive oil
1 TBS butter
½ ripe kabocha Japanese pumpkin (approx. 3 cups or 1 lb), skin removed (optional)
8 oz crimini mushrooms, chopped
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
4/3 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
3 cups baby spinach, cleaned with stems removed
Cook quinoa according to package directions, set aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat add oil and shallot and cook until softened. Add butter and pumpkin, cooking for 5-7 minutes. Add mushrooms stirring frequently. Then add broth and cook uncovered over medium high heat for 5 minutes. Stir in quinoa and combine until most of the broth is absorbed. Add in spinach, stir well to combine then add cheese. Transfer to a serving bowl.