Maybe it’s a symptom of having read too many 19th-century British novels, but, to me, a steaming bowl of porridge, speckled with nuggets of melting butter and crunchy flakes of salt, is possibly the most comforting meal I could curl up with on a blustery, gray evening. It should be sustaining enough for any heroine before she treads across the heath: thick and very savory, bearing little resemblance to anything sugared, cinnamon-topped and breakfast-appropriate.
The only problem with this vision is getting the other members of my household to partake. Dinner porridge isn’t for everyone.
Which is why I’m apt to disguise it.
Instead of salted oat porridge, I’ll offer risotto, polenta, congee or, as I have here, a one-pot dish of orzo simmered with butternut squash.
When orzo is prepared in this manner, with just enough broth to cook it through without making it soupy, it becomes porridgelike in the best way. It’s soft and moundable, with a creamy texture that’s a little like risotto. And in this vegetable-laden version, it’s studded with velvety butternut squash.
I used to make this recipe by roasting the squash separately, then folding the browned chunks into the orzo right at the end.
I’ve streamlined the process. Now, I cook the squash in the same pot as the orzo, giving the butternut cubes a head start so everything is done at the same time. The only downside is losing the caramelization that happens in the oven’s high heat. To compensate, I sauté the squash in brown butter to add that extra layer of nutty, caramelized goodness.
As for the seasonings (beyond the brown butter), they’re flexible. Just choose an allium (shallot, leek or onion); a strong, hearty herb (sage, rosemary or marjoram); and some kind of well-flavored vegetable broth (or chicken broth). I like to also add some lemon zest and red-pepper flakes for brightness and heat. Then, right at the end, a few tablespoons of Parmesan give the right amount of umami richness.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to drizzle cream over your oatmeal, you might want to spoon a few dollops of milky ricotta on top of this orzo. Either way, it will be a cozy dish that’s a perfect accompaniment to that Gothic novel you just can’t seem to put down.
And to Drink …
Winter root vegetables, like butternut squash, often have a sweetness that makes them a natural fit with chardonnay. The brown butter, shallots and sage cement this glorious amalgamation. I’m not ordinarily a fan of oaky chardonnays, but this dish will go well with them. It will be equally good with the more balanced, well-integrated chardonnays I generally prefer, whether from Burgundy, Australia or the West Coast of the United States, to cite three significant chardonnay-producing areas. If chardonnay is not for you, fear not. Look for a rich white wine, like a Loire chenin blanc, a Wachau smaragd riesling from Austria, an old-school white Rioja or even a good white Rhône. If you insist on a red, try a fruity, low-tannin style, like a balanced grenache or zinfandel. ERIC ASIMOV