Butter. Nut. {butternut squash risotto}

Squash. Like squash your dreams of me telling you that this recipe was all butter and nuts. If you want that, see desserts comma pecan bars. This recipe is good though. Very good. And I wrastled (that’s how Dad says it) the world’s largest butternut squash and brought it to its knees. And then my mouth.

The weather is starting to cool off down here and the evenings are dipping into the low 50’s and high 40’s. If you’re like me, those first few days of temperatures in those digits seem extra cold because I’m just not used to them and so I shoot out of the gate into my fall classics. One of those is risotto.

Risotto is like a slab of marble from which you can carve your masterpiece – a Pieta, some dying slaves, dinner. We tend to cook risotto a couple times per month, especially in the colder months, and generally spruce ours up with wild mushrooms or crank out a Milanese. But, since one of my mid-year resolutions (the new year just presents too much pressure) was to understand and begin using more gourds and root vegetables, I stared down the selection of butternut squashes at the Farmer’s Market on Sunday and chose one to star in this episode of risotto. Meet Fezzik (named for Andre the Giant’s character in one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride):

There’s a lot more of him than this but I liked his outie and wanted to share. This guy weighed in at almost 5 lbs. at the market and broke the scale when I plopped him in it. You don’t need this much squash for the recipe but if you have it, go for it. First you need to peel him – and I suggest using a knife rather than a peeler. This task almost did it in – and this peeler has been around since my birth.

Before I get carried away, here’s what you need to make this:

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed into 1/2″ chunks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5-6 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup white wine or vermouth
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced and divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh sage, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced

Preheat your oven to 425° and if you haven’t peeled, de-seeded and cubed your squash yet, get to work.

Chop up your fresh herbs and toss the cubed squash, 1/2 teaspoon of the thyme and all of the sage and rosemary into a bowl with the olive oil to coat. If you don’t have fresh herbs, the rule is to use dry but use half of the amount called for.

Spread the cubed squash out in one layer on a sheet pan and roast for 30 minutes until the squash is tender. Time to turn to the risotto.

The set-up with risotto isn’t hard at all but you should have everything ready to go before you get started since a lot of your free time is going to be spent stirring. Have your minced shallot ready, your saffron on hand and the parmesan grated and standing by. Make sure the Arborio and wine is measured out and once this is done, you can get to work.

Risotto is made by adding small amounts of warm stock to the rice in the pan until it’s almost absorbed and doing it again until the rice is cooked. This generally takes around 30 minutes from start to finish and is really relaxing, actually. Melt your butter over medium low heat in a large, heavy bottomed pan and add the shallot. Cook until translucent but not brown – about 10 minutes.

Add your rice to the pan and cook with the shallots for about 3-4 minutes until the edges of the rice begin to turn translucent. You want all the tasty butter and shallots to be absorbed by the grain and get you off on the right foot.

Once your rice looks like this, you can add the wine and stir until it is almost completely absorbed. Once the wine is absorbed, add 2 ladle-fuls of chicken stock, the thyme, saffron and season with salt and pepper. Stir often until the stock is almost completely absorbed and then add some more, 2 ladle-fuls at a time.

After about 20 minutes and some ladling, the saffron will begin to color the liquid and it will begin to thicken up and look like this:

The rice should be al dente and it shouldn’t be too thick when you’re done. You don’t want the rice to stand up in a heap, you want it to be able to run loosely in your bowl and spread out. Once you’ve gotten to a point where you’re mostly out of stock and the rice is cooked, pull the risotto off the heat and stir in the parmesan and the cubed, roasted squash.

Ring the dinner bell because it’s time to eat a delicious vegetarian meal that is warm and comforting and really not that unhealthy for you in the grand scheme of things. I mean, yes, butter and cheese – whatever, but it tastes so much worse for you than it is – and isn’t that awesome when it happens?

Eat.

I’m pretty happy with how my first show-down with Fezzik my butternut  buddy turned out.

I do not envy you the headache you will have when you awake. But for now, rest well and dream of large women.

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