Ah, risotto. One of our favorite dishes. We like to think of it as the Italian counterpart to macaroni and cheese. Comfort food at its best.
This particular recipe comes from a relative, who got it from a friend, so it has a history of being passed around, and, apparently, a lot of people really like it. We learned about it one Christmas when we received an entire cookbook of our families’ recipes from this same family member. We knew about it in advance, since everyone was asked to contribute their favorite recipes; all of those were compiled and bound into a nice, easy-to-use book. It was such a great idea, and whenever we read a recipe, in our heads we can hear the voices of those who contributed. It is one of our treasured gifts.
- 1 small (1 3/4 lb) pumpkin or butternut squash
- 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 2 Tbs unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup chopped shallots or finely minced onion
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 1 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbs freshly chopped sage (or 1 Tbs dried)
Ingredient discussion: Yes, you need to buy Arborio rice. Or Carnaroli rice, but that’s generally harder to find and more expensive. Cheese: never, ever get the stuff in a green box. Read the ingredients on that box and you’ll find cellulose; cellulose is sawdust, and you can’t digest sawdust. Just buy a chunk of real Parmesan; it’ll have far more flavor, meaning you’ll use less and the final cost will be about the same. And you’ll avoid eating termite food. Wine is also not optional. We can’t put our finger on just what it adds, but risotto without wine just tastes glommy and bland.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Prep the butternut. Peel, seed, and cube the butternut squash. We use an ordinary vegetable peeler to remove the peel, then cut off the stem, and trim off the bottom part where the flower was attached. Slice in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Often, we’ll roast up the seeds for a tasty snack. Finally, cut into cubes about 1/2 inch on a side.
Toss with olive oil and season. We pour about a tablespoon of oil onto a rimmed baking sheet, then dump the cut squash on and stir it around until each and every cube is coated. Then we break out the pepper grinder and salt grinder and grind away. Then toss again to distribute the S&P.
Bake. You knew that since we were preheating the oven, we’d be baking, didn’t you? Yep, pop the squash into the oven and bake for about 35 minutes or until tender.
Remove from oven and set aside.
Now for the risotto. Prepare yourself for some stirring. Prepared? Good. Let’s do it.
Heat broth. In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer. You want the broth hot when you add it to the rice. Otherwise, the rice won’t cook properly.
Saute onions and garlic. In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, melt butter in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add onions and garlic and cook until softened and just beginning to brown.
Add rice. Dump the rice in and stir and cook until the rice is translucent, about 2 minutes.
Add wine. Pour the wine in with the rice, and pour yourself a glass, too. Might as well. Cook, stirring all the time — we did say get prepared — until the wine is almost evaporated.
Add 1/2 cup broth. Stir constantly. When that broth is almost evaporated or absorbed, add another 1/2 cup. Keep stirring and adding broth when the broth in the rice is absorbed. Feel free to have a sip of wine with each addition. After about 20-30 minutes, the rice will be tender, but it’ll still have the slightest hint of chewiness in the center.
Add the squash and stir until heated through, another 5 minutes. Then turn off heat.
Add the cheese and sage and stir until combined. Let sit for about 5 minutes so the cheese melts, then stir and serve. Sometimes, right before serving we stir in a bit of cream or butter, maybe 2 tablespoons total. This seems to add to the creaminess of the risotto.
When serving, we like to sprinkle just a bit more Parmesan cheese and a crackle of pepper on top.
When we made this, we cut the recipe in half, added a cup of squash, and served the risotto on a bed of remaining squash. It made for a nice presentation.
Risotto always gets five stars (unless it’s from restaurants; 90% of that stuff is bad).