Risotto with Butternut Squash
Ti’s the season for comforting foods, and a bowl of steamy risotto fits the bill perfectly. Risotto is one of my “go to” foods when I want something special without a lot of fuss. It can be a one pot dinner that does not require an entire market to prepare and if you have a well stocked pantry, (as you should:), you can make a lovely risotto with not much fuss.
Risotto is made with arborio rice, although you can make risotto style dishes from other grains as well. At the moment I am speaking of classic risotto made with arborio. Arborio rice has special qualities that makes it suitable for long cooking with lots of liquid. It has a soft starchy center that dissolves during cooking creating a special creaminess that binds the rice kernels together without completely falling apart.
Risotto needs stock to be full flavoured but you need a lightly flavoured stock because it is reduced and concentrated during cooking and the flavour intensifies. I use vegetable or chicken stock either homemade or I buy it from specialty shops the sell good quality unsalted stocks. I always have a couple of containers in my freezer. If you buy it at a grocery store get organic low salt broth.
To cook the risotto, you put the flavourings in first: onion, shallots, mushrooms etc. are sautéed in butter for a little while before you add the rice. Then the rice goes in as is without rinsing it first as you would do with other types of rice. Rinsing would wash out the desired starch. After the rice is toasted in the butter you begin adding the hot liquid, a little at a time, stirring constantly until the liquid is evaporated, and that’s when you add another portion of liquid. You continue this for about 20 minutes (for a cup of rice) until the rice is nice and plump and the mixture is creamy. The rice needs to be cooked al dente, meaning it should still have a bite in the middle of the grain, but suite yourself and stop when you think the rice is ready for your taste.
My standard recipe is 1 cup rice to 4 cups stock but sometimes I need to add a little more stock and other time I don’t quite add all the liquid. It depends on how much of the stock the rice absorbs by the time it is cooked, and what else is in the pot with the rice. But 1:4 is pretty safe proportion. Once the risotto is cooked you can add a little butter and grated parmesan and fold them into the risotto. It adds to the flavour and makes it even more creamy and luscious. Risotto is not for the faint of heart.
This recipe combines risotto with butternut squash and it lend a sweet flavour to the dish. You can make it in one pot, cooking the butternut squash with the risotto, or you can roast the butternut squash in the oven and then add it to the rice. You can roast the squash in the oven so it’s ready by the time the rice is cooked, or you can roast it in advance and add it to the cooked risotto. Sometimes I cook the squash with the rice but roasted a few chunks of it in the oven with butter and sugar to spoon on top of the risotto. If you can, get a butternut squash with a long “neck”. This part is not hollowed in the middle and is easier to cut into chunks.
Here is how to make it:
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cups butternut squash, small dice
1 cup arborio rice
4 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest, minced
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup grated cheese (parmesan, pecorino)
Place stock in a small pot and bring to a boil, reduce to low and keep on the back burner.
On the front burner melt butter in a 2 quart pot, add onion and cook until softened. Add the butternut squash and continue cooking over a medium heat for a few minutes, not allowing the vegetables to brown.
Add rice to the onion and butternut squash and stir to coat the rice grains with the butter.
Start adding a bit of stock, a 1/4 cup at a time, stirring well between each addition and waiting for the rice to absorb the liquid before adding more stock.
Add lemon zest and half the parsley. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. You will be adding cheese that add saltiness so don’t add too much salt now.
Continue adding the stock slowly until rice grains are nice and plum. Taste to check if it is done every now and then.
When rice is almost done add the butter, parsley and grated cheese and stir until melted.
Serve, garnished with parsley and roasted butternut squash if you made them.
Optional step: Place some of the butternut squash in a foil lined baking pan, toss with just a touch of butter or oil and sprinkle with brown sugar. Roast at 375℉ for a few minutes while you are preparing the risotto. You will use these roasted and caramelized pieces for garnish.