For years people over-looked the culinary range of possibilities of this ingredient. Artificial, well-known versions of this ingredient fill grocery store shelves; authentic, lesser known, but better quality versions are difficult to find. Step-sibling to the more popular and preferred darker varieties of its substance, some people even doubt that the this ingredient even deserves its name. It has long been the wallflower of the savory and sweet world of gastronomy, this ingredient. But then in the late nineties gastronomist extraordinaire Chef Heston Blumenthal discovered that this ingredient, which is considered an imposter by many chocolate lovers, pairs well with caviar. Partly a result of Blumenthal’s surprising pairing, white chocolate finally started receiving the attention it deserves.
White chocolate, good quality white chocolate that is, is smooth and creamy. It has a subtle flavor that enables people who cook and bake to use it with a variety of ingredients. The two white chocolate brands I prefer, for both their texture and their flavor, are El Rey ICOA white chocolate discs (my first favorite) and Valrhona Ivoire 35% feves (my second favorite). White chocolate is simply cocoa butter from which cacao mass, the substance that provides the chocolate flavor to chocolate, has been separated. The separated cacao mass is then grated into cocoa powder (which, without the cocoa butter, is actually low fat), and cocoa butter usually deodorized and sold to cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies. One reason I prefer El Rey ICOA to other brands is that it is not deodorized and thus retains a hint of natural, earthy flavor. It also contains 35% cocoa butter, which is 15% more cocoa butter than the 20% cocoa butter content the FDA requires for white chocolate to be labeled as such. Valrhona Ivoire is deodorized, but like El Rey ICOA is contains 35% cocoa butter. The ingredients of both brands are identical: cocoa butter, sugar, milk powder, soy lecithin, and natural vanilla. These two white chocolates have a more complex flavor than other white chocolates that contain less cocoa butter and have ingredients listed in a different order. If I need white chocolate chips, which I do occasionally, I use Callebaut callets, which range in cocoa butter content: CW 2 callets: 25.9%, W2 callets: 28.1%, and Velvet White: 33.1%. If a product called white chocolate contains any fat other than cocoa butter, such as coconut or palm kernel oil, it’s not white chocolate. It’s that sickly sweet, flavorless white stuff sold in grocery stores that everybody rightly dislikes. For this recipe – and for any reason at all you want to use white chocolate – use only true white chocolate that contains 20% or more cocoa butter, with cocoa butter listed as the first ingredient on the packaging. The higher the cocoa butter content, the better. Trust me. You’ll be so happy you made that choice!
Another ingredient that makes this dish taste so fabulous is the roasted, spiced squash seeds with, along with the walnuts in the risotto, add texture as well as enhance the flavor of the stuffed squash. The pleasing crunchiness of the roasted seeds contrast nicely with the softer texture of the risotto and squash. Using the seeds of the squash also prevents wastage, since the seeds are sprinkled over the top of the squash.
Gluten-Free Risotto-Stuffed Acorn Squash
White chocolate is the secret ingredient that makes this sweet and savory dish so fabulous. The spiced roasted squash seed add a flavorful texture that perfects the dish.
- 2 acorn squash cut in half, seeds and stringy center removed
- 6 1/2 teaspoons olive oil divided
- 3 1/2 teaspoons salt divided
- 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 1/2 onion finely chopped
- 1/2 cup arborio rice
- 1 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons quality white chocolate (at least 25% coca butter finely chopped
- 3/4 cup walnuts chopped
- acorn squash seeds scooped from cut squash, cleaned, washed, and dried
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- dash cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese freshly grated
For the Squash: Preheat oven to 375F. Split each squash in half lengthwise. Using a sharp knife, begin slicing the squash just beneath the stem. Once you have cut completely through the length of the squash, use your hands to pull the squash completely apart at the stem. Scoop the seeds from the center of each squash and set aside to use later. Rub the squash inside and on the surface with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and nutmeg. Place upside down (oiled and seasoned side facing down) on an oiled baking sheet. Roast in the oven at 375F until a fork goes easily through the flesh of the squash (45 - 60 minutes). Remove from oven and set aside.
For the Risotto: While the squash is roasting, prepare the risotto. In a medium pan, sautée the onion in oil until translucent. Add 1/2 cup arborio rice to the onion mixture and stir about 2 minutes. Add the vegetable broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until the liquid is fully absorbed into the risotto. Add the chopped white chocolate to the risotto and stir until completely melted into the rice. Add the chopped walnuts to the risotto.
For the Roasted Squash Seeds: After removing the finished squash from the oven, reset the oven temperature to 275F. Rinse and clean the acorn seeds, removing all the stringy squash from them. Dry them in a clean dish towel. Place the clean and dried seeds in a bowl. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil, 1 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a shallow foil-covered baking pan. Bake at 275F until the seeds start to turn golden brown, about fifteen minutes. Watch carefully; the seeds burn easily. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Fill each roasted acorn squash with 1/4 of the white chocolate risotto. Sprinkle two tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan cheese over the risotto. Sprinkle 1/4 of the roasted seeds over the cheese on each squash. Bake in a 350F oven until heated through.