When it comes to Italian cuisine, pasta reigns supreme. It is the quintessential and Italian dish (equaled perhaps only by pizza) and served up differently from region to region – bucatini all’amatriciana in Rome, tagliatelle al ragu’ in Bologna, and orrecchiette con cime di rapa in Puglia, among many others. While I myself am a huge pasta fan, I do think it tends to overshadow many other Italian dishes that are perhaps lesser known (at least to our non- Italian readers). Risotto is a perfect example of a dish that perhaps you might have overlooked in favor of pasta or pizza, and is definitely worth adding to your repertoire.
Many cuisines have their own spin on rice – the Spanish have paella, the Chinese have fried rice, the Mexicans arroz con leche. Risotto is rice done the Italian way – Arborio or carnaroli rice slowly cooked with white wine and broth and finished off with a healthy dose of parmesan cheese. Sounds delicious right?
If you're not Italian, I’d guess that you've probably had risotto a few times in restaurants, but not actually ever made it at home. “All that stirring!” a friend of mine said when she learned I was publishing this recipe next. “It’s too complicated!” This is to a certain extent true – risotto is a needy dish, the equivalent of a fussy toddler who requires coddling and a bit of extra attention. It requires a cooking time of at least 30 minutes, during which broth is slowly added to the rice and stirred until completely absorbed. This process is certainly more complex compared to the quick boil time of pasta – but the slow stirring process is what releases the starch in the rice and gives the dish its signature richness, making the end result well worth the bit of extra effort. Besides being a nice change of pace from pasta, risotto is also comfort food that is still fancy enough for company, and is extremely versatile -- once you have the basic recipe down you can add any other ingredients you want!
The recipe I'm sharing with you in this post is probably a less traditional recipe for risotto – it uses pancetta and squash, a vegetable very similar to pumpkin that I love cooking with in the Fall. Its sweetness complements the sharp parmesan and salty pancetta very nicely, not to mention it’s a cozy dish to have for dinner when the temperatures start to drop. Bon appetit everyone!
BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO
1 butternut squash, about 2 pounds
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
6 cups chicken stock
3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 medium onion
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
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 three tablespoons of 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, sauté the pancetta and onion in another 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium-low heat until the onion is translucent but not browned. Add a little more olive oil if needed. Add the rice to the pot and stir everything together. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Next, add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice. 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. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Off the heat, add the roasted squash and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa, 2002.