You had me at “Rich and Easy Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage”! This risotto is robust yet delicate at the same time. Give your taste buds something they’ll clamor for!
This delightful twist on an Italian classic emerged following a visit to a local restaurant. My wife opted for a butternut squash risotto, and though it was delicious, it didn’t quite align with our expectations. Embracing my role as a devoted husband, I decided to finally make use of the two-month-old butternut squash that had been sitting in my kitchen – and I’m still amazed at how long these squashes last!
The risotto we tried at the restaurant leaned more towards an earthy, umami flavor, featuring simple chunks of butternut squash. However, what we – or rather, my wife – were anticipating was a risotto that was both rich and robust, yet also creamy. Once she shared her vision with me, I eagerly began the task of turning her risotto dreams into reality!
Why Butternut Squash?
Butternut squash, categorized as a “winter” squash, shares this classification with its cousins, including acorn, spaghetti, delicata, and pumpkin squashes. These squashes are vine-grown, starting in spring and harvested from late summer to early fall. Their low moisture content and tough outer skin make them remarkably hardy fruits. Yes, surprisingly, squashes are technically fruits, not vegetables, which might just redefine your view of the Nutritional Pyramid!
When stored in a cool, dark cellar, winter squash can remain fresh for at least two months, often even longer. Among its winter squash relatives, butternut squash may not be the most flavorful, but its firm texture and subtly sweet creaminess make it an ideal ingredient for risotto. Moreover, according to Healthline.com, butternut squash is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein. A single cup can provide a whopping 457% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A, 52% of Vitamin C, and a significant amount of potassium, magnesium, manganese, among other nutrients. With these benefits, butternut squash becomes an excellent choice for health-conscious cooking.
The Herbs and Spices for our Butternut Squash Risotto
Obviously, we’re not aiming for a pumpkin pie flavor with this recipe. With that in mind, I was selective about the spices I chose to incorporate into my Butternut Squash Risotto. I opted for a combination of Black Pepper, Coriander (of course), Ginger, Nutmeg, Garlic, and Sage. These flavors help enhance the essence of the squash without overshadowing the delicate flavor of the Parmesan cheese and Oyster Mushrooms.
Regarding the sage, there are a couple of different approaches you can take. I used both rubbed sage and fresh slivered sage, but you can also fry the sage. If you choose this route, it’s most convenient to fry your sage in the pan with Olive Oil and Cracked Pepper before adding anything else. Frying the sage brings out a nuttier flavor, which is delicious, but I didn’t think of doing it until after the risotto was already made.
The Secret to the Creaminess of Butternut Squash Risotto
Typically, I don’t add cream to my risotto, but for this recipe, it’s key to achieving creaminess. I start by peeling and dicing the butternut squash into smaller cubes (approximately 1/2 inch in size). I toss them with 3 Tbsp of Olive Oil, some Himalayan Pink Salt, a little sugar, and ground coriander. Then, I roast the squash for approximately 25 minutes in the oven on parchment paper. Each side doesn’t need to be caramelized, but you want some light browning on at least one or two sides, as this helps enhance the flavor. Roasting it first is essential, as you really can’t achieve the same caramelization by simply cooking the squash directly with the risotto. Also, since cooked butternut squash is rather fragile, it’s important to delicately fold it in near the end.
After roasting the butternut squash, I emulsify a small portion of the squash with some heavy cream and chicken broth using an immersion blender. As your risotto cooks, you add additional broth and continue cooking. On the second addition of broth, I add the blended butternut squash mixture. Adding it too early can lead to unwanted browning of the risotto, so it’s best to keep this step towards the end. If you need additional broth after the liquid from the butternut squash has been absorbed, feel free to add more.
Mushrooms are an excellent source of protein. In this recipe, I use Oyster Mushrooms, which boast the highest protein density among edible mushroom varieties. Intake Health offers some insightful pictograms comparing the nutritional facts of different mushrooms. Take a look if you’re interested in learning more! And, for those who prefer a vegetarian option, simply swap the chicken stock for vegetable or mushroom stock!
As for myself, I do enjoy my meat proteins. The perfect accompaniment to this butternut squash risotto is either Aidell’s Applewood Smoked Chicken Sausage or their Chicken and Apple Sausage (the latter being more savory). Slice the sausage and either pan-fry it or roast it alongside the butternut squash cubes. Pair this with a salad, such as our Herby Garden Salad, and you’ve got a complete meal!
Tips and Tricks
- Use Parchment Paper for Roasting: When roasting your butternut squash, use parchment paper. This prevents sticking and saves time when cleaning your baking sheet.
- Vegetarian Option: As mentioned earlier, you can easily make this dish vegetarian by substituting the chicken stock with vegetable or mushroom stock.
- Leftovers or Cooking in Advance: To heat and rehydrate your risotto, use additional chicken broth in a pan. Alternatively, you can do this in the microwave by adding a couple of tablespoons of broth, microwaving the risotto for a few minutes, and then letting it sit covered to allow the steam to work its magic.
- Blending the Butternut Squash: While you can use a regular blender, I prefer an immersion blender. I recommend the cordless Cuisinart Hand Blender – it’s very convenient and makes a great Christmas gift!
- A Trusty Vegetable Peeler: A sharp vegetable peeler is essential. I use the OXO Good Grips Pro Swivel Peeler. It has remained sharp for the past two years and doesn’t feel flimsy like some others.