Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash

6 Dec

Recipe source: Barefoot Contessa Family Style

Part of the beauty of this cookbook, for me, is Ina’s advice and small observations on entertaining. The idea of “family style” permeates through the book, with comforting recipes like the chicken noodle soup I posted yesterday, fun snacks for kids, and then, especially – quotes like this, which expand the definition of family to one that resonates with me:

“Most people wouldn’t bat an eye about asking their sister to help with dinner, so why are we so reluctant to ask the friends we invite to our house? Wouldn’t you be flattered if a friend said ‘I’d love it!’ when you offered to help? I’d feel valued and part of the A team. When my friends come for dinner, often I serve the main course, but I’ll ask someone else to pour the wine, and a third person to help me with dessert, so we’re all in it together. It’s a community, it’s collaborative, and it’s so much more fun (not to mention easier!).”
I chose to share this quote with you now because risotto requires A LOT of stirring. A lot, a lot, a lot. And Ina brilliantly suggests enlisting your friends to take turns stirring the risotto, preferably with a drink sloshing in the other hand (oh wait, that was my addition), which I think I will do if I ever make this dish again.

Like yesterday’s post, risotto is yet another classic dish I’ve never made. I’ve never been a fan of risotto because of its mushy texture, but the other ingredients in this dish sounded so delicious that I decided to re-open my mind.

The most important lesson I took from making it is that it takes patience. It takes a lot of time. And did I mention – a lot of stirring?

To begin, you will cube and roast a whole 2-lb butternut squash. This is the first recipe I made with butternut, and I discovered that it’s not fun to peel. Not nearly as fun as just throwing the whole thing in the oven until it gets soft, like in this soup.

butternut squash

But there are advantages to this method, specifically, a less mushy, mashed texture. It might be possible to get away with a mash in this recipe… but this time I followed Ina’s instructions. Through trial and error, I found the easiest way to peel this was to cut a flat end and wiggle the vegetable peeler from the top-down. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t break my peeler the second time I did this… so use a very sharp peeler, and go slowly.

peeling butternut squash

While the squash is in the oven, you’ll saute pancetta and shallots in a Dutch oven or the heaviest-bottomed pan you have. Normally when I read this kind of instruction, I am blasé… but with risotto, I wouldn’t mess around. The heat has to be *just right* for this to work, and the cast iron in Dutch ovens will hold the heat more evenly than the type of no-account flimsy Teflon nonsense I own. I borrowed this Dutch oven, which I think would make Ina proud!

Next you’ll add arborio rice and wine, then saffron, salt and pepper, then ladle by ladle, chicken stock. Ina gives very specific instructions on this so I won’t elaborate, except to show you this picture, which I took to be “a little dry” like she describes.

risotto

My final product was also like the “gluey mess” she describes… but tasty. In hindsight, I think medium heat was too low, and medium-high would have been fine. She says you need to make this twice to get it right, and I’m convinced!

I love pears, and I try to eat as many as humanly possible while they are beautiful and yellow in the Fall. So to complete our meal, I served the risotto with Ina Garten’s Endive, Pear, and Roquefort Salad. Since I don’t have a house in the Hamptons, I substituted a common man’s blue cheese for the roquefort. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly. This is definitely a favorite… also nice over romaine.

pear salad

And for dessert, I made spiced roasted plums with vanilla bean ice cream.

spiced plums

This was about as autumnal a meal as I could dream up!

RECIPE – Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash

I used to avoid risotto because I thought you had to stand by the stove for hours, stirring – not exactly my style! But, I decided to give it a try and, instead, found a dish that’s so delicious and cooks in 30 minutes. Test this first on your family and then when you have a party, you can invite your guests into the kitchen for drinks while everyone takes turns stirring the risotto.

1 butternut squash (2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced
1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside. Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

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. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon 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. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.

*Marcella Hazan advises that correct heat is important in making risotto. It should be “lively”; too high heat and the grains don’t cook evenly, and too low heat will result in a gluey mess. It should cook in 30 minutes. After the first try, you’ll get the idea.

*Saffron is collected from the stamens of crocuses, which is why it’s so expensive. Use the strands, not the powder.

*Pancetta is Italian bacon. If you can’t find it, use any good-quality bacon.

Serves 4 to 6

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One Response to “Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash”

  1. Dave December 7, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    The quote from Ina resonates with me too. I love to enlist the help of friends while they sip on red wine at my kitchen bar 🙂 Vibrant pics BTW. Butternut squash is a great Fall gourd. That salad is “the bomb” BTW.

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