Prep time 60 minutes
Active prep time 60 minutes
Special equipment needed – None
Special skills needed – None
Nowadays, any search for a recipe on Google will produce a hundred good results. A close inspection of these will often reveal only about a dozen distinct recipes. The balance will be copies of the recipes on the first search engine results page. I work very hard to avoid copying (intentionally or unintentionally) any recipes from other cooks. I sometimes draw inspiration from recipes I find online, but unless I can really transform the recipe, I don’t publish it. Even if I change a few ingredients, if the resulting dish is basically the same, I don’t share it.
In this case, I’ve got a dish that is so great a match for some of my fish ideas, that I have to share it. So, in the interest of full disclosure, this is almost an exact copy of a saffron risotto with butternut squash by Ina Garten. She published this recipe 15 years ago and it is still the best risotto in my rotation. Here is her version if you’d like to make it instead.
All I’ve changed in my version is to omit the pancetta and add back a silly amount of bacon. My version is slightly more Americanized in that it is full of quite a bit more fat. There are a few other small differences, mostly that I’ve added a little more direction for those who have never made a risotto. It isn’t better or worse. Over the years I’ve tried to find a way to make a better version and I can’t come up with it. Her version is simply perfect. I share my version here because if you put it next to a side of broccoli and a simply grilled fish, you’ve got a perfect dinner. It will be chock full of fiber, protein, and healthy fat, next to this perfect risotto to make sure you are satisfied and stay full for hours.
Risotto is a labor of love. If you want to know what it feels like to be an Italian grandmother, stand at the stove for an hour and pour your heart and soul into a risotto. It takes as long as it takes. It is a little tedious. It helps to drink wine while you do it. At the end, you’ll be able to feel the love as you eat it. You’ll have a soulful dish packed with flavor and beautiful colors. You might find yourself telling everyone within earshot to “Mangia!” I guess it depends on how fast you drink the wine.
1 Small Butternut squash
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
6 Cups Chicken stock
1 Stick Unsalted butter
½ Pound Bacon – finely chopped
½ Cup Shallots – finely chopped
1 ½ Cups Arborio rice
½ Cup Dry white wine
1 Pinch Saffron
½ teaspoon Black pepper
1 Cup Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the squash. Ina says to cut it to a ¾” dice. I like mine much smaller, about 3/8” cubes. If you go with the small dice, the roasting time will be quicker. Whatever you choose, give it a head start so you don’t have to rush it. I start it at least 10 minutes before I start the rest. Coat it with olive oil and pepper. You can salt it to taste here, but I usually don’t because risotto can get salty if you are not careful. Roast for 20-30 minutes.
In a large stock pot, heat the chicken stock. It should be steaming but not boiling. This is so that the stock doesn’t lower the cooking temperature too much as you add it later.
The bacon and shallots come next. The smaller you can cut the bacon, the better. I usually cut it to a 1/8” wide sliver, but if you take the time to cut the bacon lengthwise and then cut it in small slivers, you’ll have better texture. Think large bacon bits. Shallots should be 1/16” fine dice, almost minced. This is where you can test your knife skills…and your “not crying” skills. In a heavy bottomed pan or Dutch oven, over medium heat, cook the bacon for about 3 minutes over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add the butter and shallots. Cook 10 more minutes. If the butter starts to brown, reduce the heat.
Stir in the Arborio and make sure it gets well coated with butter. Add the wine and cook 2 minutes. Add about 1 ½ cups of the warmed chicken stock. Add the saffron and pepper.
Adjust heat to a low simmer and stir it almost constantly until the stock is mostly absorbed. It should take 5 to 10 minutes. Add another cup of stock. Stir occasionally until it absorbs. Repeat until the Arborio is cooked through. If it starts to get too salty before the Arborio has softened, switch to water instead of stock. You may not use all of the chicken stock. Just keep tasting until you are happy with the salt and texture. Arborio is done when it is like a slightly “al dente” pasta. It should have enough liquid at the end to spread slowly on a plate. At this stage it should be just a little bit soupy when you pull it off of the heat. Add the parmesan and stir to incorporate. Add squash and stir gently so you don’t beat up the squash.