Whether all would agree or not, I kind of like to think I have a practical, homemade approach to cooking. I’m not whipping out filet mignon every night, but I keep our weekly dinners semi-creative with menu plans and the occasional splurge on ingredients and have found that quite honestly, pork and chicken can be as exciting as hard-to-find or expensive ingredients. This utterly irresistible and gourmet butternut squash risotto is going to end up on more of the fussy end of the spectrum, no matter how I try to insist that it is a simple meal – and that lies mostly in the fact that a successful risotto requires nearly constant stirring, which can be tricky if you don’t have the time or the managerial skills (read: children flying around during dinner prep) to swing it on a weeknight.
But if you are looking for an elegant (and yes, simple!) dish to prepare for a special night in or you end up with dinner prep hours that give you more flexibility to stir, stir, stir, then this dish is a no-brainer. Risotto is comforting and still classy at the same time and the variations are endless. I love risotto, absolutely love it. In fact one of the most delicious meals I have ever, and I mean ever, consumed was at a work function for my husband where a small catering company served a pear and parmesan risotto topped with Chilean sea bass. The memory still fills me with delight (my husband not so much since I finagled half of his portion from him for “testing” purposes).
For this butternut squash risotto, the creamy, rich, tender rice is infused with the subtle flavors of butternut squash, sage and bacon and the combination works perfectly. Helped along by a healthy dose of flavorful Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, this risotto has easily made it into my new favorite recipe repertoire. I did happen to tackle this on a weeknight when my husband was traveling for work and while the end result was mostly slopped onto my kids’ plates without a shred of beautiful plating, my four boys ate this in record speed. I mean, really, there isn’t much not to love. If you really want to amp things up to a gourmet level, try serving it with a pork tenderloin and green salad. Winning combination, I’d say.
- 4 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken broth; more as needed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 10 large fresh sage leaves
- 6 slices bacon, diced
- 2 medium shallots, minced, about 1/4 cup
- 2 cups (1/4-inch-diced) fresh, uncooked butternut squash
- 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Pour the chicken broth in a small/medium saucepan and set over medium heat. It doesn't need to boil, just heat it through and keep it hot while making the risotto. In a medium (3-quart) saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the sage leaves and fry, turning once, until they’ve turned dark green in most places, about 1 minute total, being careful not to brown the leaves. With a fork, transfer to the fried sage leaves to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Drain off all of the oil except for 1-2 teaspoons. Cook the bacon in the hot oil in the saucepan, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the bacon to the plate with the sage. Again, drain off excess grease, if desired, leaving about 2 teaspoons in the saucepan.
- Add the shallots to the saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until softened, about 1 minute. Add the squash and rice and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Ladle in enough of the hot broth mixture to just cover the rice. Cook, stirring frequently, until the broth is mostly absorbed. Keep the heat regulated so that the broth isn't boiling (it will evaporate too quickly) but instead the rice/broth mixture bubbles and simmers gently while it cooks. Add another ladleful of broth and continue cooking and stirring until absorbed. Continue this process (adding a ladleful or two of broth once the previous broth has been absorbed), stirring constantly, until the rice is tender with just a slightly toothsome quality, about 25 minutes. If you use all the broth before the rice gets tender, simply use more broth.
- Set aside the nicest looking sage leaves as a garnish (about 1 leaf per serving) and reserve a few crumbles of bacon for garnish as well. Crumble the remaining bacon and sage leaves into the risotto. Stir in the cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Crumble the remaining bacon over each serving and garnish with a sage leaf. Serve immediately.