Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash, Bacon and Blue Cheese

by Kristin on October 12, 2009

Risotto has an undeserved reputation for being hard work. It’s true that you do have to hang around in the kitchen to add stock and stir every five minutes or so, but it doesn’t need constant stirring and attention the way, say, polenta does, so it’s not as if you’re chained to the stove. Just put on a good CD while you cook. It took me a few tries to find a risotto recipe I liked as much as what I used to have in restaurants, and for me, the wine or vermouth (I always use vermouth) is the key ingredient — without it, I always think the dish is missing something. I always have a bottle of extra-dry Martini in the house, not only because I like to use it in place of white wine in most recipes, but mainly because I make risotto so often.

In the September 25 entry of The Kitchen Diaries*, Nigel Slater says of risotto, “I insist this warming, gooey rice dish has a season, just as porridge does,” and I agree (though I make a lemon risotto in the early Irish summer, when the days are still cool). It’s one of my go-to recipes for the colder months, plus both my kids love it — and why wouldn’t they? It’s total comfort food — creamy and savory — open to endless variations, and easy for my 17-month-old to scoop up with a spoon to feed himself. This is Matt’s favorite version, and it’s just right for autumn. You can expect plenty more risotto recipes from me in the coming months, now that the season for it is well and truly upon us.

*Amazon.com is selling The Kitchen Diaries in hardcover at a bargain price for only $16 (list price is $40). This cookbook is one of my favorites, so you might want to snap it up at this price.

risotto with roasted butternut squash, bacon and blue cheese

Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash, Bacon and Blue Cheese

Serves 4

If you want to make a vegetarian version of this, just omit the bacon, and perhaps add some chopped toasted pecans when serving (much like this squash side dish).

1 large butternut squash
olive oil
4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter
3 shallots or 1 small onion, very finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 1/2 cups (300 g) risotto rice (Arborio rice)
1 cup (240 ml) dry white wine or extra-dry Martini
2 pints (1 liter) good-quality vegetable or chicken stock
6 slices of bacon or pancetta
1/2 cup (50 g) grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup (about 1 1/2 oz/40 g) blue cheese, crumbled
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Peel and halve the squash and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes (you don’t need to be precise, just keep the pieces uniformly small). Place the squash in a roasting tin or casserole dish and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes, or until tender. Set aside and keep warm.

Heat the butter, shallots, celery and sage in a wide, deep saucepan and cook to soften, about 5 minutes. Mix in the rice, stirring to give it a good coating of the butter. Allow it to cook for a minute or two, until the grains of rice start to turn translucent. Add the white wine or Martini and let it bubble away for a few minutes. Meanwhile, heat the stock in another saucepan and keep it at simmering point.

Once all the wine or Martini has been absorbed into the rice, pour a ladleful of the stock into the rice and keep stirring until the stock is absorbed. Then add another ladleful and stir again. Continue doing this until the rice is al dente. You may not need all the stock; equally, you may need to add a bit more hot water. Don’t rush this process — allow the rice to fully absorb each ladleful of stock before adding the next one.

While the risotto is cooking, heat a separate frying pan and cook the bacon or pancetta until crisp. Drain on paper towels, then chop into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

When you’ve added almost all the stock, test the rice — the risotto is ready when the rice is tender but still has a little bite. When the risotto is done, mix in the grated Parmesan. Divide between 4 serving bowls or plates and top with the roasted squash, bacon and blue cheese. Serve with more grated Parmesan if you wish, add seasoning to taste and serve immediately.

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