After last week’s simple hash, we went back to something a little heartier for this week’s Dark Days meal. We enjoy a good risotto around here, and I’ve had some spelt berries from Stutzman Farms in Millersburg floating around for a couple months, so I figured I could probably throw together something similar using the spelt (a relative of wheat – similar flavor and texture, but it’s also gluten-free for those on a GF diet, and has more protein). I found a few recipes online more or less replicating what I was trying to do, so I went ahead and tried it.
I don’t have any homemade broth available, so I put in a bottle of GLB beer for some added depth. It worked well with the nuttiness of the spelt, but left just a hint of a bitter aftertaste (either the beer was a little past its prime, or too dark for this use). As a warning, the spelt did take a while to cook; it was even longer than a normal risotto. Maybe next time I’ll pre-soak for a bit.
Butternut Spelt “Risotto”
1/2 of a medium-large butternut (or other winter variety) squash, cubed (about 2-3 cups?)
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 – 1 cup spelt berries
12 oz. bottle of beer
Water (or broth, if you have it)
Couple teaspoons maple syrup
Dried thyme and sage
Salt & pepper
In a medium skillet, throw a generous swirl of oil (I used my homemade sage oil!), then add the garlic and onions, and cook until the onions start to get translucent, just a few minutes. Add the spelt berries and continue to cook, stirring, for a few minutes more. Add the bottle of beer, and simmer, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add water or broth, until the spelt is chewy, not crunchy. When it’s not done, the grain has a lighter center, so when that light center has shrunk down to just a speck, you should be good to go.
While the spelt is cooking, add another swirl of oil to a different skillet, add the squash, and saute until fork-tender, maybe 10 minutes. Alternately, you can roast or steam the squash. When tender, mash lightly with a fork, depending on how chunky you want it.
Add the mashed squash to the cooked spelt, along with thyme, sage, salt, and pepper, to taste. When I tasted mine and noticed it was a little bitter, I added a few teaspoons of maple syrup to sweeten it up just slightly. You don’t have to, but maple always goes nicely with winter squash.
This won’t be as creamy as a normal risotto, and the spelt is a lot chewier and a little earthier than arborio rice, so I’d definitely make it with something that has enough flavor of its own, like the squash, or mushrooms – anything too delicate will get overpowered by the spelt. Really, it’s more of a grain salad.
Whatever you call it, it’s still quite good.