It’s that time of year again. The leaves have turned to brilliant hues of red, orange and gold, and the succulent late summer vegetable harvest has given way to Minnesota’s own Honeycrisp apples and earth-toned, odd-shaped squash.
Those of you who’ve followed Due Spaghetti for some time know that we are not big squash fans. We are traditionalists, and prefer a clean distinction between savory and sweet dishes. We tolerate limited sweetness in recipes outside of desserts, and squash is just a bit too sweet for our palate.
The exception, though, is butternut squash. Once a year, we slice one open, roast its bright orange flesh, and incorporate it into a splendid autumn dish. Last year it was butternut squash gnocchi with a creamy taleggio sauce. This year it was butternut squash risotto, or risotto alla zucca. Comfort food, stile italiano.
Risotto alla zucca
1 medium butternut squash
400 grams (2 cups) Arborio or Vialone Nano rice.
1/2 of a medium onion
1 liter vegetable broth
100 g (3 1/2 ounces, or slightly more than 1 cup, grated) Parmigiano Reggiano
1 cup dry white wine
50 g (approx. 4 Tablespoons) butter
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Using a strong, heavy knife, slice the bottom and the top off of the squash, and then slice the squash in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and innards. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the squash flesh side up onto the baking tray, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt.
Turn the squash upside down so that the flesh is down and the skin is up, and place into hot oven. Roast for 45 minutes or longer, until the skin is blistered and browned, and the flesh is tender, dark orange and caramelized around the edges. When cool enough, remove the skin and set the roasted squash aside.
Dice the onion finely and saute it in a few tablespoons olive oil inside large, heavy skillet. When the onion is golden brown and translucent, add the rice and stir so that all grains are coated in the onions and oil. Add the roasted squash and continue to saute over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Add the white wine and allow it to cook away, increasing heat if needed.
Now, begin adding the broth, one ladle at a time. The key to a good risotto is to add the liquid slowly, stirring gently and allowing the rice to fully absorb that liquid before adding more. Proceeding in this manner, it will take 20 minutes or more for the rice to absorb the full liter of broth.
Toward the end of the cooking time, taste the rice for doneness. Like pasta, rice is cooked al dente – the grain of rice should be tender with just a slight firmness in its center. 2 or 3 minutes before the rice is done, stir in the butter and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Serve hot with grated Parmigiano on top.