Wednesday, April 20, 2011

saffron risotto with butternut squash

The littlest chef in the making, Claire.
I was lucky enough to spend my birthday with my sister Holly and her family in Oregon earlier this month.  We thought it would be fun to make my birthday cake from scratch and post a blog entry about it.  Great idea, right?!  Therefore, I had planned for this entry to be about a moist, delicious, and beautiful birthday cake.

So...that was the plan. 

Unfortunately, a few things went wrong.  Number one, my sister is the better baker and while she had planned to help me, my 17 month old niece Claire kept her too busy to help me man the kitchen.  Number two, the recipe we were using required 8 inch cake pans.  Holly only had 9 inch pans, so we used what we had.  Finally, after first checking the cake after 20 minutes and deciding that it needed more time, I promptly forgot about it and thus it spent far too much time in the oven.  So, ladies and gentleman! (drumroll please...)  I give you...


Squat, dry, and best served with milk.  Or better yet, soaked in milk.

Well, I can't very well share a recipe for a disastrous birthday cake, can I?  So, I'll stick to what I do best for now:  cooking.

Enter, PLAN B:  Luckily the weekend before I left for Oregon, I had my friends Marika and Ashley over for dinner and made a delicious risotto that I haven't had a chance to share yet.  It's a recipe that my gal Ina Garten dished up in one of her earlier cookbooks, and let's just say we all had seconds (and thirds).  It's easy enough to make on a weeknight, but sophisticated enough that you could serve it on a special occasion- my favorite type of dish!  Ms. Garten's simple-yet-elegant style of cooking is one of my biggest influences when it comes to the kitchen, but I do find that she is rather heavy-handed on oil and butter.  I significantly decreased the amount of both in this recipe, and you'll hardly miss it (although that's likely because of the bacon in the dish!)

First, the squash.  For the easiest handling, I usually cut it into two halves and peel around the sides.  For the top half, thickly slice and dice.  For the bottom section, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds, then slice and dice.

Place the cubes of squash on a sheet pan, toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.  (Side note: Roasting vegetables this way is by far my FAVORITE way to eat them.  I do this with almost all veggies- asparagus, eggplant, carrots, Brussels sprouts...the list is endless.  The only thing you really have to adjust is the time it spends in the oven, which changes depending on the vegetable.  But I suggest experimenting with roasting veggies- it makes them taste so good!) 

In the meantime, get the chicken stock heating up on the stove in a small pot.  Dice up the pancetta (or bacon) and start to sizzle it in a larger, heavy-bottomed pot with the butter and diced shallots on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes (the butter helps to keep the bacon from burning, but stir it frequently!)

Add the rice and give it a stir, then add the wine and cook for two minutes.  I used a Savignon Blanc, but any dry white wine will work.  (Make sure it's good enough to drink- don't touch that stuff they call "cooking wine."  Good wine is much more enjoyable to drink with your risotto!)  Here comes the fun part:  the building of the risotto.  Add a little bit of chicken stock (2 ladles full) to the pot, the saffron, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Stir until the liquid is fully absorbed, about 5-10 minutes.  Once absorbed, add more stock and repeat.   Keep adding stock and stirring until the risotto is creamy, but still al dente (meaning, the rice should have just a bit of bite or toothiness to it.  You do NOT want mushy risotto.  Yuck.)

Mmm...simmering away on the stovetop.

Finally, take the pot off the heat and add the squash cubes and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  YUM!!

(A note to my veggie-worshipping friends:  this dish can easily be made vegetarian by skipping the pancetta/bacon and using vegetable stock.  Although, if you can't live life with bacon, why live life at all?)

Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash

  • 1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste 
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 oz. pancetta or thick-sliced bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio or short-grain rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a savignon blanc) 
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
(1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

(2) Peel the squash, scoop out the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes (about 6 cups). Put the squash on a sheet pan and toss with the olive oil, a good dose of salt, and several grinds of pepper.  Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

(3) Heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan on a low heat to simmer.

(4) In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes.

(5) Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, a good pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total.

(6) Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.

Enjoy!  xo H


Marika said...

I was the one who had thirds. And would have had fourths if I had a bigger stomach. So good!

redhotmama said...

Looks like another "MUST TRY" :)