I don’t know what happened, but I woke up Saturday and it was November. The air suddenly had that fireplacey smell, and the neighborhood was covered in leaves. I ran around all weekend taking photos of changing trees and feeling sentimental, like I always do this time of year. So I thought I’d spend my entire chilly, sunny Sunday in the kitchen, making slow-cooked things that simply ooze fall. Of course, this meant risotto.
In an unfortunate turn of events for the Significant Other, it also meant winter squash. (I believe his exact words were, “Squash is the worst.”) I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of squash either, having grown up eating the sweet, cinnamon-laced version each year around Thanksgiving. But it can be really tasty in savory applications.
This risotto combines roasted butternut squash with salty pancetta and fragrant saffron. In honor of the fall colors blending with the last of the green grass and leaves outside, I finished the dish with a sprinkling of fresh parsley. There you have it. Fall in a bowl.
Butternut squash and saffron risotto
1 2-pound butternut squash
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
4-5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced
1/2 cup minced onion
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
Method: Preheat the oven to 400F. Peel the squash and chop into 1-inch cubes. Place in a single layer on a sheet tray, and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, until tender and slightly caramelized. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Heat the chicken stock until just simmering in a medium saucepan; keep warm on the stove.
In a heavy-bottom pan or Dutch oven, add half the butter, the pancetta and the onion. Saute until the onion is soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Pour in the rice, stirring frequently, and toast it for about 2 minutes, until each kernel has been coated in fat and is slightly translucent.
Add the wine and stir occasionally until the liquid is all but gone. Turn the heat down to medium. Add about 3/4 cup of the warm broth, and stir frequently until most of the liquid is gone.
Repeat this in similar amounts each time, until the rice is cooked to al dente and has achieved a creamy texture. This should take about 20 minutes. When you get to the second to last addition of broth, stir in the roasted squash. Check for seasoning, and adjust as needed.
Once the rice has thickened but falls back on itself when you drag a spoon through it (a chef I once interviewed likes to call it “a la onda” or like a wave), turn off the heat. Stir in the rest of the butter, along with a bit of olive oil, the parsley, Parmesan cheese and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Check the seasoning and adjust as needed. Serves 3-4, depending on level of ravenousness.