Butternut Squash, Leek and Fresh Herb Risotto

It’s time for squash!  I love squash.  I have several exciting squash recipes I want to share, but it was easy to choose which one to do first.  I used to think risotto was too difficult and way above my comfort zone – probably due to watching too much Hell’s Kitchen and hearing Gordon Ramsay repeatedly scream “Look at the risotto!  It’s f&@king burnt! You donkey!” or something to that effect.  But then I tried it and it’s really not that hard.  It just takes patience and a lot of stirring. In fact, I would consider it one of my “signature dishes” – one of the few recipes I’ve made so many times that I don’t need a recipe.  I also happened to have on hand some delicious leeks (my favourite onion, if I had to choose one) as well as fresh sage and thyme.  It was the perfect combination of fall flavours.

Ingredients

1 butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
fresh ground salt and pepper
1 leek, white and light green parts chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup Arborio rice (I’m told you can use any short grain rice, but Arborio is the only one I’m usually able to find. It must be short grain rice though, the extra starch content is what makes the risotto creamy!)
1/2 cup dry white wine (TIP: When buying wine for cooking, never buy something you wouldn’t drink.  Not only will there be leftover wine that you inevitably end up drinking so you might as well buy something you like, but the flavour infused into your cooking will be better too.)
2 cups vegetable broth, room temperature or warmer
2 cups warm water
1 branch fresh sage, chopped
1 branch fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 400.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and pulp.  (TIP: If the seeds in your squash are substantial enough, clean them and roast them just like pumpkin seeds – after all, pumpkin is a type of squash.  You can sprinkle them on the risotto at the end and really impress people! Alas, my squash was too small and had barely any seeds, so I didn’t do that this time.)  Place squash cut side up on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Bake for 40-50 minutes or until squash feels tender when pierced with a fork.

2. Remove squash from oven and let cool until you’re able to handle it.  Dice into small cubes.  I find it easiest to cut into the squash in a grid pattern, not quite hitting the skin.  Then scoop out the cubes and dice a bit more if needed.  Set aside.

3. In a large pan, heat butter and 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Add the leek and cook until starting to soften, about 4-5 minutes.

4. Add garlic and rice and stir until rice is translucent and much of oil/butter is absorbed, 1-2 minutes.

5. Add wine and stir until almost completely absorbed.  Add broth, 1/4-1/2 cup at a time.  Stir constantly until each additional bit of liquid is almost completely absorbed.  (NOTE: Most risotto recipes require you to keep the broth and water simmering.  I find this requires too much coordination and as long as they are room temperature or warmer, my risotto turns out ok.  But you may have a more refined palette than I do, so do what you like!)

6. Once all broth is added, begin adding water 1/4 cup at time.  Taste the risotto frequently at this point to tell when the rice is done – you want it to be al dente.  Keep adding 1/4 cup water until it gets there – usually between 1 and 2 cups.  When it’s close to al dente, add about two cups of squash.

7. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan and herbs.  Serve with garlic toasts.

Serves 4.

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