Butternut Squash Risotto

Risotto is one of those dishes that makes me feel rather luxurious, and although many may shy away from attempting to stir some up, it is a simple dish that is big on comfort. Being that it is fall and butternut squash has filled my CSA box in abundance, I’ve become inventive in incorporating it into our meals. Butternut squash is a sweet fruit not unlike pumpkin that can be easily made into savory dishes, which is why it is not such a crazy idea to have some on hand. Ever had butternut squash ravioli? Delish!

Butternut squash has a tough skin, so I roast mine whole rather than hack away at it raw. (Don’t worry, it won’t explode in your oven.) With your oven set to 375°F, roast a small butternut for 30-40 minutes. Because you are roasting it whole, some of the juice may find its way out through cracked skin, which is why I recommend placing it on a lined cookie sheet. I like to roast a squash in the morning while I get ready for work so that the flesh is ready to use later when I get home. I just store the squash on a plate in the fridge after baking.

Butternut Squash Risotto

This dish serves 2-4 people, depending on whether you are serving it as the main event or as a side. Both the rice and squash can be rich and filling, so be the judge for your appetite.

You will need:

  • 1 cup of arborio rice

  • 4-5 cups chicken or vegetable broth

  • ½ cup dry white wine (optional)

  • flesh from a small butternut squash, pureed

  • sage (If you can get fresh sage, do so — you’ll use about 4 decent size leaves. If not, 1 tablespoon of dried sage will do.)

  • 1 teaspoon fresh or dried rosemary

  • 1 shallot, finely diced (Warning: shallots are just like onions and turn on the waterworks. You may also substitute onion or garlic if shallots are not available.)

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated

  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon butter

  • crumbled goat cheese for garnish

  • bacon pieces or crisped up jamon for garnish

Puree the baked squash flesh in either a food processor or blender. (If you don’t have either, roast the squash for an extra 10-15 minutes so it is super soft when you carve out the flesh, then just use your good old fashioned muscles and mash it up in a bowl. Use a teensy bit of broth to soften further if you aren’t getting the pureed consistency.) Fry up the bacon or jamon serrano if you plan to use either for garnish. (You could easily make this dish without the pork product, but the salt factor paired with the sweetness of the squash is really what makes this so DARN GOOD!) Let the meat rest on some paper towels to soak up grease.

Now grab your biggest skillet. A large skillet allows the rice space to cook evenly. Heat the butter and olive oil on medium, then toss in the diced shallot. Turn down the heat if the shallots are browning — you want them to go translucent, not brown up. Once they are translucent, go ahead and pour in the rice, stirring to coat rice.

This is when all the famous risotto stirring starts. Using ¼ cup at a time, stir in broth until it has been absorbed by the rice before adding another ¼ cup. I usually add the wine as the second or third ¼ of a cup of liquid, but if you don’t have wine just keep at it with the broth and don’t stop stirring! I periodically bite test the rice as I cook so I can keep track of how soft it is and make sure I’m not overcooking. Think al dente pasta. When the rice begins to be more soft than tough, add the butternut squash puree, brown sugar, rosemary, and sage. Keep stirring. Nine out of ten, the squash had quite a bit of liquid for the rice to absorb but if not, help the rice out with another ¼ cup of broth until the rice is at the desired tenderness and all liquid is more or less absorbed. If you have leftover broth but the rice is tender and delicious, just save it for another day. You are ready to serve IMMEDIATELY.

Risotto is one of those things that just doesn’t store well or even sit around well, so make sure to send out a warning call that dinner is almost ready when you’ve added your last ¼ cup broth. Serve in a shallow bowl for family style or in individual bowls; sprinkle with jamon and goat cheese. Enjoy!