Butternut Squash Risotto
People need to make more risotto. Does it take 45 minutes? Sure. Do you have to occasionally stir it? Yes.
All of that in mind though, I still think risotto tops my list of dishes that are always over-hyped in difficulty and under-hyped in deliciousness.
At the end of the day, it just isn’t that hard to stir rice for a few minutes and you’ll have one of the most warming meals you’ve had in a while and enough leftovers to eat it until you forgot how long it took you to make it.
This version is kicked up a notch for fall with roasted butternut squash, sage, and bacon.
Butternut Squash Risotto
Yield: Serves 6.
2 Cups arborio rice
1 large onion, diced
8 ounces bacon, diced
8-10 Cups chicken stock, homemade is always best
2 Cups mashed butternut squash
1/3 Cup white wine (opt.)
1 Tablespoon fresh sage, minced
1/4 Cup Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
1) Chop onions, bacon, and sage just so you have everything ready.
2) Heat stock in a large pot near where you will be making the risotto.
3) Add bacon pieces to a large high-rimmed pan and cook over medium heat, letting the bacon fat render out. You want the bacon to be very crispy, but not burned.
4) Remove the bacon and add onion to pan. If the pan is dry, add a bit of olive oil or butter. Cook onion over medium-high heat until onion is translucent and soft, about 5 minutes.
5) Add rice to dish and stir for about a minute, heating rice.
6) Add one cup of hot stock and stir well. Be sure to scrape up any bits of bacon or onion that are stuck to the pan.
7) Turn the heat down to medium and continue to add batches of stock (3/4 Cup about). Stir in each ladle of stock and wait until it's almost all absorbed before adding the next ladle.
8) Keep adding stock in this manner until rice is tender, but with a slight bite. It should take about 30-40 minutes.
9) Add mashed butternut squash to risotto and stir in another ladle of stock.
10) Cook until squash is incorporated and rice is done. Add Parmesan cheese and taste for salt and pepper. Serve immediately with bacon and sage.
Roasting the Squash
I love roasting butternut squashes this time of year. You can use them in a bunch of different dishes (quinoa salad is one of my favorite). They also freeze well, so if you can’t use a whole one, just keep it until you need it.
Of course, for a dish like risotto, you don’t need to roast a whole squash. You can definitely just use the frozen butternut squash cubes without a problem.
IF you want to roast a whole one though, just grab a sturdy knife and slice it in half by stabbing it in the middle and then pressing down on the knife to cut it open. Do this on both sides and your squash should split right open.
Then put it skin-side up on a baking sheet and punch some holes in it with a fork. Roast at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until it’s very tender.
Again, you can do this way in advance for a dish like this. Also, you should only need half of a squash for this dish.
Standard Risotto Stuff
The only things that you always need for risotto are onions, rice, and some sort of stock. If you have some white wine on hand, it’s a nice addition to de-glaze the pan, but I just used stock for this version and it was still delicious.
Definitely get all your ingredients ready before you get started cooking. For this recipe, that means chopping up the onions, sage, and bacon, and heating your stock.
Depending on your pots and pans, you’ll have to figure out a risotto set-up that works for you but basically you need:
1) A large high sided pan or pot to cook the risotto in.
2) A large pot to keep your chicken stock warm in.
Ideally you’ll have these very close to each other. This is my standard set-up these days.
Making the risotto
Take a deep breath people. It’s time to make risotto. (It’s seriously not that hard.)
Usually butter or olive oil is used to start a risotto dish, but I decided to fry up some bacon and use the bacon grease to kick things off.
So add your chopped up bacon to your pan over medium heat and cook it until all the fat has rendered out and the bacon is really crispy, about 10-15 minutes.
Remove the bacon and save it for a garnish on your risotto. Then add your chopped onion to the bacon grease and cook it over medium-high heat until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
If your pan is really dry, add a Tablespoon of olive oil to it. That might be the case depending on your bacon.
Once your onion is cooked, add all your rice! This is kind of a weird step because you don’t normally add rice to a dry pan, but just go with it.
The dry heat from the pan will heat up the rice and allow it to absorb more moisture later on.
Stir this all together for about a minute.
Now it’s time to start adding the stock! Ladle in about a cup of stock to start off. It’ll sizzle and hiss and evaporate pretty quickly.
It’ll also look like you have a ridiculous ratio of onions to rice.
The Annoying part
This is the annoying part that people always rant about with risotto. Yes. You need to slowly add your HOT stock to the rice in about 3/4 Cup batches and stir it occasionally.
Do you need to hover over your risotto constantly stirring? No. You just need to make sure that it’s not burning and add more stock when it’s dry. That’s the important part.
So in other words, you can do this.
After 30-40 minutes of this, you’re risotto will be nice and plump and be tender but still have a tiny bite to it. The only way to really tell when risotto is done is to taste it regularly in my opinion!
This is almost there.
When your risotto reaches this point, add in all your mashed butternut squash. This is an exciting step because the color is awesome and it will smell really good.
Stir this all together and add another batch of stock to it to smooth out the squash and risotto. It should be really creamy.
Near the end, taste it one more time to make sure your rice is cooked. Then hit it with some Parmesan cheese and taste it for salt and pepper. You probably won’t need to add much salt, but maybe a pinch will be in order.
You’ll be left with a huge pot of delicious risotto.
Serve this as soon as possible and top it off with some crispy bacon and chopped sage.
Looking at this dish now as I write this post, I think it looks freakin’ elegant. It looks like something you’d pay $18 for in a restaurant.
But screw restaurants. Make this at home and anytime you want some you’ll have a huge dish of it your refrigerator, just waiting for you.