One of my favorite things about shopping during Autumn is what I call the Miscellaneous Squash Bin. Your grocery store or market almost certainly has one. It’s basically just a huge bucket of random squashes that almost everyone passes by.
Not you though. You should stop and investigate the insanely cheap and delicious squashes that this bin offers.
There is where you will most likely find some Kabocha. It’s a green squash and looks like an unripe pumpkin. But it’s actually perfectly ripe and makes one helluva risotto.
1) Slice Kabocha squash in half and roast, cut side down, at 350 degrees for about an hour until it's very soft.
2) Add vegetable stock to a large pot and bring to a simmer.
3) Optionally, you can roast only half the squash, peel and cube the second half, and saute the cubes over medium high heat in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil until they are browned. Season with a tablespoon of fresh sage and a pinch of salt. Remove sauteed squash from pan and keep until needed.
4) Using the same pan, add another drizzle of olive oil and your diced onion to the pan. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes until onion softens.
5) Add rice to pan and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently.
6) Pour pumpkin beer into pan and use the liquid to scrape up any onion or rice bits. Stir over medium-high heat until liquid absorbs.
7) Start adding hot vegetable stock to rice in 1 cup batches. Stir frequently as the rice absorbs the stock. Once the rice has absorbed the stock, add more.
8) When the risotto is mostly cooked, after 5-6 cups of added stock), scoop in the roasted squash and stir to combine.
9) Continue adding stock until the risotto is cooked through but still has a very tiny bite to it. You don't want it to be soggy.
10) Right before serving, stir in sauteed cubed squash, Parmesan cheese, and season with salt and pepper.
11) Serve risotto with extra Parmesan, sage, and pomegranate seeds.
The Kabocha deal
Kabocha is a squash that is originally Japanese but is pretty popular in the states also. Your store probably has some even if you don’t know it.
While it looks green and unripe on the outside, the inside will be bright orange and wonderful. It has almost a pumpkin flavor, but I think it’s a bit more rich somehow.
If you really can’t find kabocha, you can definitely use a small pumpkin for this recipe.
While you could just roast this sucker and scoop it into risotto, I wanted to create two different textures with it. So I roasted half of the squash, cut side down, at 350 degrees for about an hour.
The second half of the squash I peeled and cubed into about 1/2 inch cubes. Note that peeling and cubing this squash isn’t easy. You’ll need a good veggie peeler and an even better tolerance for annoying kitchen tasks.
If you want to skip this step you definitely can. Just roast both halves of the squash and call it a day.
After about an hour, the roasted squash should be really tender and scoopable.
Remove the seeds and set it aside until needed later.
If you did bother to peel and cube one half of the squash, mad props to you.
Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the squash cubes and let them cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly browned. These will be a great add-in to the risotto at the end.
Finish the squash with a pinch of salt and some fresh sage.
Before we dive into the risotto itself, let’s talk toppings.
Peeling the Poms
One of my favorite (but random) toppings for risotto is pomegranate seeds. It might sound weird but the crunchy, tangy seeds are the perfect topping for the creamy risotto. It works especially well for squash-based risottos.
These days, you can buy pomegranate seeds already separated, but if you want to do it yourself, just cut the pomegranate into quarters and then submerge them in water as you pull the seeds out.
The seeds will sink and the white parts and junk will float.
Then you can just pour off the water and you’ll have a nice amount of seeds for the dish.
Cooking the Risotto
To be honest, I think people think risotto is hard because it’s expensive in restaurants. But the secret is that it really isn’t hard. Just remember: It’s just rice.
Before you start cooking the risotto, make sure to bring your stock to a simmer. Adding cold liquid to risotto is a big no-no.
Once your liquid is simmering, add another drizzle of olive oil to the same pan you cooked your squash in (no need to wash it). Then add in your diced onion. Cook them over medium heat until they are soft, about 5 minutes.
Then go ahead and add in your rice. Cook the rice in the dry pan, stirring constantly, for about two minutes.
Now, most risotto recipes will tell you to add white wine at this point to kick off the risotto cooking. The wine allows you to scrape up any bits that might be stuck on the pan and also gives the rice a good bit of flavor.
For this version though, I used pumpkin beer rather than wine. It worked great with the squash flavors.
Stir that until the beer evaporates (a few minutes) and then start ladling in your hot stock in 1 cup batches. Stir the stock into the risotto and don’t add more stock until that stock is completely absorbed.
The Truth About Stirring. You’ll hear a lot of people say that you have to stir risotto constantly while it is cooking. This just isn’t true. You need to stir it occasionally to make sure it’s cooking evenly and not burning, but there’s no reason to sit there stirring constantly for forty minutes.
Do keep a close eye on it though. Since you are adding a small amount of liquid at a time, there’s a good chance you’ll burn it if you go try to catch The Simpsons while it’s cooking.
My general strategy is to ladle in some stock, give it a stir, let it sit for a minute or two, stir it again and then repeat the process if the pan is mostly dry.
After doing this process 5-6 times (30ish minutes) you’ll have a risotto that’s almost done. Then you can scoop in your roasted squash.
The roasted squash will kind of melt into the risotto which is awesome.
When the risotto is completely done cooking (another 5-10 minutes and another cup or two of stock) it will be tender, but still have a tiny bite to it. You don’t want it to be soggy.
Then scoop in your sauteed squash if you went that route. Otherwise season it with salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, and fresh sage.
Serve this as soon as possible with extra cheese and some pomegranate seeds on top.
If you’ve never made a risotto before, I think you should try this. The squash is really rich and perfect for fall and I have full faith that anyone who can follow instructions can make risotto.
Then you can snub your nose the next time you see a restaurant charging $30 for what is essentially rice.