I love butternut squash. Apparently, I’m not alone in this unlikely adoration. Nearly every restaurant I went to in Australia offered several butternut or other winter squash options: spinach salad with roasted butternut squash, sun dried tomatoes and feta, pumpkin and butternut ravioli, purees,pastas and, my favorite, butternut squash risotto. For nutritional reasons and honest preference I do not eat white rice frequently, but I knew after one bite I would have to have a butternut risotto recipe in my arsenal after returning home. I wanted something creamy and warm but with a bright flavor, something that let the simple goodness of the ingredients shine through. Here are the results (I’m not quite sure why there is a halo of light around the rice. . .I like to think it is glowing with goodness!).
Risotto in its most basic form consists of a sofrito, one or more aromatics such as onion or garlic sauteed in olive oil or butter, rice, wine, and stock. Most people say that butter and parmigiana reggiano are also part of the basic list, though I’ve found a few dissenters. Use of the correct rice is essential to a successful risotto. Short grained round or semi-round rices such as arborio, carnaroli, and vialone nano are the only rices with a high enough starch content to produce the creamy yet toothsome texture that makes risotto so enticing. Arborio rice is the most readily available in the U.S.; carnaroli (actually a medium grained rice) and vialone nano have higher starch content, said to make for a creamier, less sticky finished product. The richness of the rice, cheese and butter are cut by the citrus brightness of the wine and the delicate sweetness of the squash. For an extra kick of protein and flavor try mixing in some smoked salmon.
Butternut Squash Risotto with Parmigiano Reggiano and Pistachios
serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a first course or side
1 c. arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano rice
½ of a small white or yellow onion, medium dice
½ small butternut squash, grated
½ c. white wine, heated
2 ¼ c. chicken stock
(*arborio rice absorbs roughly 1.5 times its volume in liquid. The rice you use may vary slightly. It doesn’t hurt to have a bit more heated stock on hand the first time you make this. Once you see how much liquid the rice you prefer absorbs, adjust the recipe accordingly.)
2 tsp. butter
1/2-3/4 c. parmigiano reggiano, finely grated
roughly chopped pistachios
In a small pan heat chicken stock to a simmer.
Sautee onion in 1 Tbs. olive oil until just beginning to soften. Add grated squash and cook until both are softened and onion is translucent. Remove from pan to clean bowl and set aside. Add more oil to the pan if necessary and add rice, stirring to cover each grain in the fat. Over medium heat sautee rice until it begins to become translucent and give off a warm, toasty fragrance, roughly five minutes. Add squash and onion back to the pan and mix. Cook for approx. two minutes longer, then add heated wine (if the wine is cold it will shock the rice causing the outside surface to flake while the inside remains hard).
When the wine has evaporated, increase the heat to medium high and begin to gradually add the simmering stock,one ladle at a time, stirring constantly from this point on. Before the liquid has completely absorbed add more stock. Continue the cycle of stock and stir for 15 to 20 minutes until two cups of the stock have been absorbed. Taste to see if the risotto has reached a desired level of doneness. If you like yours a bit less al dente, add and cook down remaining ¼ cup of stock. Remove from heat; add butter and parm. regg. and stir till smooth and creamy. Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped pistachios.