Friday, November 11, 2011

Butternut squash, sage and chile de arbol risotto

If hot chiles are undoubtedly the ingredients that have had the deepest impact on modifying the way I cook since I moved to the US, butternut squash would come in second place. Before moving here, I had never cooked with this pear shaped fruit. You would have a hard time in finding it mentioned in an Italian recipe book: in Italian cuisine the squash of choice is really the pumpkin.

But when I moved to the US I discovered, with a sense of shock, that pumpkins here are most for display and not for cooking (unless they are canned...) But pumpkin played an extensive role in what I had been cooking until then. I had been using it in risottos, soups, pasta sauces, raviolis ...Giving it all up it would have been stupid.

Butternut squash, with its slightly sweeter and nuttier flavor, proved to be an excellent replacement in many of my recipes traditionally requiring pumpkin. This was the case, for instance, of the butternut squash tortelli that I submitted last year to a cooking contest.

Granted, some of the recipes needed to be modified to take the full advantage of the new world's flavor. In some case - as in today's recipe - I personally believe that the results obtained replacing pumpkin with butternut squash are actually better than the original Italian recipes.

Butternut squash, sage and chile de arbol risotto 
The 'original' recipe of this risotto called for pumpkin and peperoncino, but I find that this offspring version using US ingredients is actually tastier and more flavorful. Obviously, if you are reading this in Italy, you may use pumpkin and peperoncino...The butternut squash base (steps 1-4) can be prepared ahead of time, but before stirring in the rice you will need to reheat it. 

The final product: creamy...

Ingredients for 2 people
  • 150 grams (5.5 oz) of arborio rice
  • 5-600 gr (17-21 oz) of butternut squash, peeled and cut in 1 cm (0.5 in) cubes
  • 1/2 chile de arbol (the lenght of your index finger), finely chopped. 
  • 1.5 liters (6 cups) of vegetable broth, boiling hot.
  • 10-12 leaves of fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped 
  • 3 TBSP olive oil
  • 60-80 gr (2-3 oz) of parmesan, grated
  • 1 TBSP unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper
How to make it
  • In a pan with high walls, heat the olive oil on medium heat, add the onion and let it cook for 8-10 minutes, until it becomes translucent. 
  • Add the chile de arbol and stir. Add 2/3 of the chopped sage, saving the rest for later. Stir 30 seconds. 
  • Add the butternut squash cubes and salt and pepper and stir so as to coat the squash in oil. Add 1 ladle of broth, reduce the heat and let it cook for 20 minutes, partially covered, stirring now and then. If the pan gets too dry, add more broth. Cook until the squash is soft enough to be poked by a fork. 20 minutes should be enough, but you may need more. (You do not have to cook the squash all the way through, because it will still cook with the rice for another good 20 minutes...)
  • Throw in the rice and stir it to so as to coat it well, 2 minutes. Add enough broth to cover the rice, and keep on adding broth when the rice gets too dry. Stir regularly, to avoid that the rice sticks to the pan. While cooking, the rice must have the consistency of a dense soup, like in the photos below. 
  • When the rice is cooked (check the cooking times on the package of the rice you are using, but generally arborio rice takes anything between 15 and 19 minutes to cook), take the pan off the heat and add the butter, the grated parmesan and the rest of the chopped sage leaves and stir well, so as to melt the butter and the cheese. (The consistency of the risotto should be creamy, very creamy, much denser than a soup, but soupy enough to make you wonder whether it is not too liquid. If you don't have the sensation of it being too liquid, chances are it is too dry...)
  • Let it rest 3 minutes. This is VERY important, like letting a good steak rest before slicing it.
  • Plate and eat!

Soupy while cooking
While cooking


Brian said...

It looks amazing.

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Thank you Brian!


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