Saturday, January 30, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

There are some dishes out there that just shouldn't be messed with. Risotto is one of them. It's one of those classic comforting dishes that when done right hits my palate with absolute pleasure, and when done wrong just makes me want to cry. It's also rather decadent because of all the starch in the Arborio rice (which makes it creamy) along with the cheese and the butter that usually finishes it off. People have suggested that I can make it lighter by using barley, but that just seems sacrilegious to me. Good risotto has a perfectly creamy texture and al dente bite that cannot be replicated with any other type of grain or cooking process.

Last weekend I had some osso bucco at a nearby Italian restaurant that I usually enjoy very much. The veal shanks were perfectly fork tender and tasty, but the risotto it was served with was supposed to be a Milanese risotto (or a classic saffron risotto). Instead I got a pile of mushy white wet rice that was posing as risotto. It was not al dente by any means, and was so white that not only was I certain it contained no saffron whatsoever, but I'm convinced they used cream in it in order to get that milky white color. It was just so wrong.

Ever since then, I felt that I had to satisfy that risotto craving since I was pretty much left high and dry with that poor excuse for risotto last weekend. I also happened to have a butternut squash hanging around my house, waiting for its turn to become part of my dinner. It was the perfect plan! I'd make butternut squash risotto, but I'd make it a bit lighter. I used Ina Garten's recipe as a guide, but I changed up a few things and cut WAY down on the fat. I also cut down a bit on the saffron because unlike Ina, I'm not made of money :) Here's what went down...

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
Serves 4 to 6

1 butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup minced onion
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 pinches saffron threads
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with 1 T. of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, add the remaining 1 T. olive oil and saute onions on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains.

Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock.

Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan. Mix well and serve.


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