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Butternut Squash & Sage Risotto

Introduction

I have or thought I had a 'Zucca piena di Napoli' squash growing, a rare Italian variety with a beautiful blue-ish green hue. While I was away last week it turned a pale tan colour because it is actually butternut squash. No complaints butternut has an excellent flavour and is particularly good in risotto and soup.

I let the squash, the whopper pictured below which weighed 2.2kg (almost 5lbs), mature a day or two more on the vine and then let it sit for a couple of days once cut to allow it to dry a little. This concentrates the flavour.

Any firm autumn\winter squash will work. I am looking forward to experimenting with some of the varieties that we have planted in the kitchen garden; let's hope they don't all turn out to be butternut.

Tips

Peeling a squash is optional if roasting, but essential if preparing a risotto. To peel butternut or other firm-skinned squash, trim the top and bottom of the squash with a sharp knife, then peel from top to bottom with a strong peeler.

It's hard to peel, but take your time, work on a section at a time. You may have to peel two or more layers before reaching the flesh.

First Butternut from the garden

Ingredients

  • 2lb\900g butternut or other firm squash (weight unpeeled)
  • 90g\3oz\6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • ½ glass dry white wine or vermouth
  • 2 shallots or one small onion, finely chopped
  • 240g\8oz\ 1½ cups of Arborio or Canaroli rice
  • 1.25l\40fl oz\5 cups chicken stock or good vegetable stock
  • 16 sage leaves, chopped
  • 60g\2oz\½cup freshly grated Parmesan chesse, plus more for the table
  • Salt & Pepper

Tools of the Trade

  • Sharp knife
  • A strong peeler
  • Heavy bottomed casserole or pan

Method

Place the stock in a pot, bring to the boil then reduce heat to a bare simmer.

Peel the squash and cut it into ½ cm\15 inch dice. Place a heavy bottomed casserole or pot over a medium heat
and melt a third of the butter and both tablespoons of olive oil in it. When the butter has melted add the squash to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring from
time to time. This will drive off moisture from the squash. Add the chopped shallots\onion and gently sauté until the onions
are soft but not coloured (3-4 minutes).

Add the rice and stir thoroughly, cooking until the rice just begins to crackle. Pour over the wine or vermouth and allow it to
evaporate, there is no need to stir.

Add a couple of ladlefuls of hot stock, and when it has been absorbed add a ladleful more. Continue to add stock one ladleful at a time, once the previous ladleful has been absorbed. If you run out of stock top up with a ladleful of boiling water. Once the rice has reached a thick porridge-like consistency, 17-18 minutes, but is still firm with a bite at the centre, remove the pan from the heat.

Taste first then adjust seasoning as necessary (commercial stocks tend to have high levels of sodium).

Gently stir in the remaining 23 of butter, the sage and the freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Cover and leave to rest for up to five minutes 'Mantecare'. Taste once more to check seasoning, then bring to the table and serve with extra cheese.

Suggestion

A pinch of toasted then ground cumin and a pinch of grated nutmeg is a welcome addition to the seasoning on a cold night.

60g\2oz diced pancetta added with the squash will enrich the dish.