Venetian Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto

This recipe for butternut squash risotto has been my go-to risotto for years now. It takes a bit of time, as all risottos do, but it’s simple to make and I find it very calming and therapeutic to cook. The risotto gets to a point where it’s almost hypnotic, where you’re repeating the process of ladling the stock in, stirring it round and waiting for it to be absorbed.

INGREDIENTS

You can’t make risotto with just any old rice. If you try it with longer grains such as basmati, you’ll end up with a mushy kind of soup, or a sticky mess. Risotto is made with short grain rice, that slowly releases its starches to create a creamy sauce. The most common types of short grain for Risotto are Arborio (which is easy to get in the UK, Carnaroli and Vialone Nano. It’s possible to make risotto with other types of short grain rice, but they don’t end up as creamy – the texture is a bit more like Spanish paella. Arborio is the easiest to cook with, so if you’re a risotto novice start with that type. This particular dish is made with Carnaroli, which took me a while to hunt down but it did make a huge difference to the overall texture. It’s easier to overcook Carnaroli though, so you have to pay attention as it’s cooking!

 

HISTORY

The name ‘risotto’ comes from an amalgam of the Italian words riso and sotto, which literally translate as ‘rice’ and ‘under. So, the idea behind a risotto is that you have a rich, creamy rice and stock base with something yummy added on top. The most common additions to risotto are butter, garlic and parmesan, which really add a beautiful depth to the flavour. Traditionally in Italy risotto is eaten as a primi, or first course. It’s then followed by a meat dish. This means that many risottos are quite light, containing only vegetables or fish.

Risotto is such a typically italian dish, but usually when we think of Italy, we associate it with pasta. Rice was introduced to Spain and Italy as an Arabian influence from the invading Moors during the 10th Century AD. Risotto specifically came about as a way of cooking the shorter grains of rice, which are denser and require a longer cooking process to become pleasantly edible.

Different Northern regions of Italy all have their own trademark recipes. I ate it most when in Venice, which is why the first recipe on this blog is Venetian. Whilst conducting research into why risotto is so common in Venice, I came across this interesting snippet from  https://www.cookinvenice.com/

 

“ Rice arrived in Venice from the East and it soon became one of the main staples of the city, both on the tables of poor people than those of the rich merchants. And still today, for the Venetians, rice is a special product. That is why the regional way of cooking risotto is unique and is called “all’onda”. The risotto rice is cooked in very little liquid, so that the grain absorbs the tastes from the other ingredients, while remaining “al dente”. At the same time the rice must remain soft, like a wave, after being “mantecato”, that is buttered and sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese to make it nice and glossy. ”

 

WHAT YOU NEED

Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal, free range and organic ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses and good farming practises, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food!

1 medium butternut squash

16 sage leaves, hand torn

300g carnaroli risotto rice (or arborio if you can’t find carnaroli)

100g unsalted butter

100g parmesan, finely grated

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 large glass of dry white wine, or vermouth

1 large glug of olive oil for roasting, plus a drizzle for frying

Salt and pepper, to taste

 

For the stock:

The peel from the squash

3 celery stalks, roughly chopped

2 medium carrot, roughly chopped

2 bay leaves

10 whole peppercorns

1 white onion, halved

METHOD

 

 

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, place a roasting tray covered in a generous amount of olive oil in the centre. Peel the squash, keep the peel and add it to a medium sized saucepan for stock. Chop the flesh into roughly 1cm squares.
  • While the oil is heating, place the celery, carrot, onion, bay leaves and peppercorns into the saucepan with the squash peel. Cover with cold water and set on a hob on a high heat, turn it down to a lower heat once it starts simmering.
  • Take the roasting tray out of the oven, tip the squash into the oil and turn the pieces until they’re coated (be careful as it’s hot). Scatter half of the sage leaves evenly over the tray. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt and pepper and roast for about 20 mins, check on it every so often and turn the pieces to make sure they are cooked until brown. Check it as you’re cooking the rice and set aside once ready.
  • Using a cast iron pot or heavy-based pan, melt 50g of butter on a medium heat, add a large splash of olive oil to stop it from burning. When it’s melted, fry the onion with a pinch of salt, until the onions turn translucent. If they start to colour, turn the heat down a little. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant.
  • Turn the heat up, add the risotto rice and stir, coating the rice with the butter and oil. Fry for about 2-3 minutes, until the rice is fully coated and has started to cook. When the rice seems dry and sizzly, pour in the glass of wine. It should steam upwards, releasing a lovely cloud of vapours! Add the remaining sage leaves.
  • Strain the stock and pour it back into the saucepan. Keep it warm on a low heat. Ladle a spoonful of stock into the rice, and stir slowly until it’s evenly absorbed. Repeat this step until the rice starts to take on a creamy consistency – it takes about 10-15 minutes, you might not need all of the stock to get the rice to this point. Make sure to focus on the texture of the rice, taste it every so often. It’s ready when it has a slight bite to it, but has lost its crunch!
  • Take the rice off the heat and stir in the butter, parmesan and roasted squash. Add more salt and pepper to your taste. Serve immediately!

 

Prep Time: 15 mins

Cooking Time: 45 mins

Serves: 4 – 6

 

ADAPTATIONS

LF – use lactose free cheese instead of parmesan and olive oil instead of butter. Bear in mind that parmesan is naturally low in lactose due to the ageing process.

GF – this dish is naturally gluten free

V – this dish is naturally vegetarian

Ve – If eating this as a vegan dish, you can omit the cheese or use a vegan parmesan substitute. Use olive oil instead of butter.

 

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