Roasted Squash Risotto
September 16, 2021
At the age of twelve, I attempted my first risotto. I stirred and stirred, carefully following the instructions in a copy of Bon Appétit magazine. Slightly panicked that it wasn't looking right, I darted back and forth between staring at the stove and rereading the recipe, until magically I had a sumptuous pot of creamy, savory rice. That stressful half-hour taught me a little bit about culinary science, and a lot about perseverance in the kitchen.
2 pounds acorn or butternut squash, peeled and seeded, 1/2-inch diced
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a ¼ cup
2 tablespoons fresh sage, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
5 to 7 cups chicken stock
2 cups finely chopped onions
¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice (see notes)
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups grated Parmesan
¼ cup fresh parsley, minced
Crispy sage leaves (see notes)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In large bowl toss squash with 2 tablespoons olive oil, sage, thyme, and a pinch of salt. Spread in single layer on two sheet pans lined with foil. Roast until tender, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool and set aside.
Bring stock to a boil in large pot. Then turn heat down to low, cover, and keep hot.
Set Dutch-oven over medium heat. Add ¼ cup of olive oil, onions, chili flakes, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Slowly cook onions, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes. Onions will soften and become translucent, but don't let them brown. Adjust heat if they start cooking too fast. Then, ladle ½ cup of the hot stock into the onions and continue to cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, without letting them brown. Stir until the onions are golden, shiny, and the stock has completely cooked away.
Add rice to the onions, stirring quickly to fully coat in oil. Cook at moderate heat for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly, and lightly toast the rice. Rice is done when it is shiny white and makes a clicking sound in the pan as you stir. Don't let the onions or rice brown.
Pour in wine and stir as it fully absorbs into rice, about 3 minutes. Once liquid is all gone, add another ½ teaspoon of salt, half the squash, along with 2 cups of stock, so the rice is just covered. Continue to stir frequently, making sure to scrape around sides of pan. Adjust heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
Again, when all the liquid has been absorbed, and rice has thickened, add another cup of stock. Stir until fully absorbed. It should take 4 to 6 minutes in between each addition of liquid. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, and when liquid is again all absorbed, add two more cups of the stock.
After 5 cups of stock has been stirred in, start checking the risotto for doneness. The rice should be slightly al dente and suspended in a creamy emulsion. If the rice needs to cook longer, add more stock ½ cup at a time, up to 7 cups total. Stir and taste as you go. When the risotto has the perfect level of creaminess and the right texture, add the remaining squash, and stir quickly to heat through. Take off heat, stir in the butter, parsley, and Parmesan, until fully melted in. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if needed, and fresh ground black pepper. Serve immediately in warm bowls, garnishing with crispy sage leaves.
To make the crispy sage leaves, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet. Clean and dry 2 dozen sage leaves. In batches, fry leaves for 3 seconds per side, until crisp and darkened in color. Drain on plate lined with paper towels, seasoning with a pinch of salt while still hot. This can be done while the squash is roasting.
Risotto rice is available in large supermarkets, either imported or domestically grown. Cooking the rice in the oil and onions seals the outside of the grains, preventing them from cooking too fast. The silky texture is created by the gradual addition of stock and the constant stirring.
Serve with a crisp chilled Pinot Grigio and a salad for a delightful family meal. Mangia! Enjoy.