Dish of the Week: Butternut Squash Risotto

Risotto is the perfect dish for adding seasonal twists.
Risotto is the perfect dish for adding seasonal twists. Photo by Katrin Gilger
From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. Find other dishes of the week here.

This week, we’re giving an Italian classic a seasonal twist with butternut squash risotto.

Risotto is a northern Italian rice dish that is toasted, then gradually cooked with ladles of broth until the mixture is rich and creamy. It is commonly made with medium or short grain rice varieties — such as Arborio or Carnaroli, hailed as the “king” of Italian rices — that are high in starch and conducive to absorption, creating a stickier, velvety consistency. Chicken, vegetable, seafood or meat broth can be used, and other typical ingredients include wine, butter and onion.

While recipes vary, the cooking method is pretty consistent. It starts with a base of onion and butter and/or olive oil that is sautéed until the onion is softened and fragrant. Next, the rice is mixed in to coat each grain in tostatura (fat), and then lightly toasted. After, wine is added to deglaze the pan and scrape up any caramelized bits.

Once it has evaporated, the process of gradually ladling in hot broth and stirring until it's absorbed begins. As the mixture is gently stirred, the starches loosen as the rice absorbs the hot liquid. This step is repeated several times until the texture is smooth and creamy. Often a final step, mantecatura, occurs, as diced cold butter (and often grated cheese) gets vigorously mixed in.

In the end, the texture should be incredibly creamy, while the rice remains al dente (firm to the tooth or bite). The simple process lends itself to a bevy of flavors, perfect for adding a seasonal twist.

This recipe, from Food & Wine, incorporates butternut squash, sage and crisp pancetta.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Crispy Pancetta

yields 8 servings
1/4 pound thinly sliced pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch strips
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded and cut into 1 1/2-by-1/4-inch sticks
8 sage leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
5 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 1/2 cups arborio rice (19 ounces)
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

In a large skillet, cook the pancetta over moderate heat until crisp, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the fat in the skillet. Add the squash and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the sage, season with salt and pepper and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the squash to the bowl with the pancetta.

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

In a large saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Add 1/2 cup of the hot stock and cook, stirring, until absorbed. Continue adding the stock, about 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring constantly until it is nearly absorbed before adding more. The risotto is done when the rice is just tender and the liquid is creamy, about 20 minutes.

Stir the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and the 1/2 cup of Parmesan into the risotto. Gently fold in the squash and pancetta. Spoon the risotto into warmed bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan and serve.
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Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
Contact: Brooke Viggiano