The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art showcases artists from all over the world, but chef Jennifer Maloney celebrates the Midwest.
Raised in Chicago, the executive chef at Café Sebastienne at the Kemper uses “as much local and regional as I can get,” she says. That means bacon from Burgers’ Smokehouse as well as chicken and pork from Buttonwood Farm, both in California, Missouri. She gets heritage meats through Paradise Locker Meats and lots of winter squash from Crum’s Heirlooms in Bonner Springs.
Every autumn, Maloney features winter squash in risottos, salads, desserts, and as edible containers for a wild-rice custard.
She also favors Carr Valley blue cheese from central Wisconsin, such as their Ba Ba Blue (sheep’s milk), Billy Blue or Baraboo Blue (goat’s milk) Glacier Point Blue (small batch) or Virgin-Pine Native Blue (cow’s milk).
“My cooking style is seasonally rustic,” she says. “I might do artistic squiggles from time to time, but my favorite garnish is pomegranate seeds.”
Maloney’s butternut squash risotto with pears, blue cheese and bacon would be a colorful, flavorful side dish for Thanksgiving or any autumn dinner. And it feeds a crowd. There always seems to be someone with food issues at the table these days, and this naturally gluten-free risotto could also go vegetarian by using vegetable stock for simmering and the bacon as an optional garnish.
For the Butternut Squash:
1 butternut squash
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
For the Risotto:
8 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
½ onion, diced
1 tsp. chopped garlic
2 pears, peeled and diced
3 cups Arborio rice
¾ cup Carr Valley blue cheese or whatever cheese you like
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
Pomegranate arils (seeds) for garnish
1 cup cooked, diced, thick-sliced bacon for garnish
Pecorino cheese, for garnish
For the butternut squash, cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Rub the cut sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool and scoop out the squash into a bowl; discard the rind.
For the risotto, pour the stock into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and diced pears and sauté for 1 minute.
Stir in the rice, stirring with a wooden spoon in one direction. Slowly add a little simmering stock. Keep stirring until the stock is absorbed by the rice. Add the butternut squash and, again, slowly add the simmering stock a little at a time until the rice absorbs it all. You might need a bit more stock if the risotto is too thick. You want the rice to be a bit al dente but not mushy, about 20 minutes total.
When the rice is al dente, gently stir in the sage and blue cheese.
Serve in casserole dish or serving bowl, topped with pomegranate seeds, with the bacon and pecorino on the side.