When I lived in Bologna, my Italian roommate Mariangela would make this heavenly Butternut Squash Risotto on special occasions. She would stand there by the stove, stirring away with her ancient looking wooden spoon (she claimed it imparted extra flavor) until a magical transformation took place and plain rice became creamy risotto. She would then finish it off with a generous drizzle of the liquid gold her mother would ship to her from their olive grove in Calabria.
This dish holds a special place in my heart because it reminds me of long, hearty meals around a dining room table that gets cozier as the night progresses and louder as the wine flows. Which, come to think of it, is maybe why I think it's the perfect Thanksgiving dish as well.
Risotto: premature stages
Risotto: fully bloomed
Mariangela taught me a few tricks of the trade to making her risotto:
1) Don't forget to shred a carrot into the mix. Since carrot is a natural sweetener, it will bring out the sweetness of the butternut squash.
2) Don't forget to toast the rice a bit before you start adding liquid. It brings out the flavor of the rice and also helps in getting that nice, slightly al dente chew at the end.
3) Don't forget to bring the broth to a simmer before adding it to the rice.
4) Don't forget to add the broth one ladle at a time, waiting until it is absorbed by the rice until more is added.
5) Don't forget to pour yourself a nice glass of wine while you stir.
Risotto takes time and TLC, but it's well worth it. For Thanksgiving, roast off the squash ahead of time and keep it ready for use in an airtight container. You can even make the entire dish ahead of time and keep it in a large casserole dish ready to reheat in the oven before serving.
Butternut Squash Risotto
This Butternut Squash Risotto is meant to be shared and enjoyed with those near and dear to you. It is warm and comforting, creamy and rich, and taste like home.
Butternut Squash Risotto
1 small butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), or 1 package pre-cut
32 oz chicken broth (2 boxes)
1 small onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
Olive oil for roasting and finishing
Roast the Butternut Squash
1. Preheat oven to 450°F with the rack in the middle.
2. If using pre-cut squash, drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast on a foil-lined baking sheet for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned. (Skip to step 5).
3. If using a whole squash, microwave the entire squash for 3-4 minutes so that it's easier to cut through. Halve squash lengthwise and discard seeds.
4. Peel one half and cut into 1-inch dice. Put remaining half, cut side down, in an oiled foil-lined baking pan with diced squash and season with salt and pepper. Bake the squash, stirring the diced pieces occasionally, until tender and browned lightly, 20-25 minutes. Holding halved squash in a kitchen towel, scoop out flesh and coarsely chop.
5. Set aside. (Roasting can be done 1-2 days ahead of time and kept in an airtight container in the fridge.)
Making the Risotto
6. In a saucepan bring broth to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer.
7. In a large pot melt the butter and add onion, carrot, garlic, and ginger. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened.
8. Stir in rice and let it toast a bit, stirring constantly, about 1 minute.
9. Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed.
10. Then stir in the broth ¼ cup at a time, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Keep the risotto at a simmer throughout. Continue simmering, stirring, and adding broth, letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until about half of broth has been added.
11. Stir in diced and chopped squash, honey, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and continue simmering and adding broth in same manner until rice is tender and creamy-looking but still slightly al dente, about 20-25 minutes.
12. Stir in the grated Parmigiano and combine.
13. Spoon risotto into serving bowls and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a few curls of Parmigiano using a vegetable peeler.