I've never been one for spending Valentine's Day in a restaurant. For one, the menus are as overwrought with clichés as they are overpriced. The scene is usually packed with a mixture of lovey-dovey lifer couples and awkward third dates. Under normal circumstances, this makes for excellent people watching, especially if you yourself are on an awkward third date. But really, it kills the romance.
On the other hand, I think there's nothing more romantic than cooking a meal and cozy-ing up at home. If you are one of those old or soon-to-be married couples, you can make the meal together. If you are still testing the waters and hoping to seal the deal, try impressing your date with a meal that's as easy as it is elegant. For the latter, my answer is risotto.
Risotto gets a bad rap for being difficult. I happen to think the opposite. And the reputation of this dish will only further yours if you pull it off. Try cooking the rice until nearly al dente, turning off the heat, taking a shower, and waiting for your date to arrive. Once he/she is in the door, turn the heat back on, pour yourselves a glass of wine (from the bottle that's already opened), and show off your cooking prowess by giving the dish the last few stirs.
Shopping List: 1 small butternut squash, $2.25; Purchased stock, $2.00; scallions, $0.50; 1/4 cup white wine, $0.50;
Pantry Items: Olive Oil, Shallots, Garlic, Salt, Arborio Rice
Total Cost (for 2 portions): $5.25
About the authors: Phoebe and Cara are the co-founders of Big Girls, Small Kitchen, a food and cooking website for twenty-something cooks looking for user-friendly, affordable ways to navigate their kitchens. They have a heated, decade-long rivalry about whose Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie is the best. Their book, In The Small Kitchen, will be published in the spring of 2011 by William Morrow. Visit their blog here.
- 1 small butternut squash (around 1 ½ pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts divided)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¾ cup Arborio rice
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
Place the squash and the stock in a medium saucepan over high heat. Simmer, uncovered, until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside over low heat to keep warm while you proceed with the recipe.
Coat a dutch oven or deep sauté pan with the olive oil, and set it over medium heat. Add the the shallot, white parts of the scallions, and garlic and cook until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and continue to stir until the grains are covered in oil and beginning to toast, about 1 minute. Add ½ tsp of salt and the wine and cook, stirring, until nearly evaporated, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and add 1 cup of the warm stock, stirring occasionally until the rice has absorbed the liquid.
Continue adding stock to the pot in ½ cup portions, stirring occasionally until each batch is absorbed before adding more. You don’t need to be constantly stirring, but you also want to make sure that the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. When the liquids are almost absorbed, add the next ½ cup of stock and repeat.
When the rice is nearly cooked through, add the remaining stock and the squash cubes. Stir in the green parts of the scallions, reserving some for garnish. To serve, ladle the risotto into bowls and sprinkle with the remaining scallions.