At the end of the summer, all the tubers are being harvested, to hold us over until next year. This is the time to get the freshest, sweetest sweet potatoes. They are good keepers, and last for months in cool storage, but inevitably become drier and starchier as they sit. This is a good time to show off your seasonal bounty with a creamy Sweet Potato Risotto With Arugula and Sage.
Risotto is a diva of a dish. Unlike a typical pilaf, it demands attention. You’ll be stirring the simmering grains and teasing in stock for about 20 minutes. Put on some music and have fun with it, because it’s worth it.
The defining quality of risotto is creaminess. To get that, you have to use the right rice, and you have to stir. Risotto rice has become easy to find, and you can buy it at most grocery stores, in the rice or bulk section. Arborio rice is the most common of the risotto rices, which include Carnaroli, Vialone Nano and Calriso.
All rice contains two types of starch, called amylose and amylopectin. Amylose is the firmer of the two, and long-grain rice has plenty of it, so it cooks up firm and separate. Short- and medium-grain rices are higher in amylopectin, which is more gelatinous. That’s the starch that makes sushi rice hold together so you can pick it up with your fingers. It’s also the magic ingredient that makes risotto creamy.
So, as you stir your risotto and gradually add stock, you are freeing that starch so that it can combine with the flavorful liquid and create a saucy coating for the grains. Whole grains, which have an intact bran layer, won’t release their starches unless they are slightly pearled. Pearl barley and semi-pearled farro can also be used to make hearty, creamy risotto. Whole short-grain brown or black rice will not be as creamy but can be delicious, and will need more liquid to cook.
In this dish, you’ll be peeling and dicing a sweet potato and cooking it with the rice. Some fresh sage leaves give it an earthy flavor, and stirring in a few handfuls of arugula at the end gives it a nutty flavor and pop of green.
Sweet potatoes plus creamy rice makes perfectly fresh, comforting food that will carry us into fall.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan” and “Plant-Based Meats.” Find her at robinasbell.com.