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Friday, October 28, 2016

Butternut Squash Risotto with Pancetta, Brown Butter and Crisp Sage Leaves

Inspiration:  Easy Halloween inspired dinner for entertaining (it's orange and delicious)!

This is a great go-to meal around Halloween for us.  I love the orange colour and the flavours are delicious.  I used prepared butternut squash purée from Williams-Sonoma that is already flavoured with subtle Fall spices and the result was delicious. You can also make your own butternut purée by cutting the squash in half, drizzling with a little olive oil and roasting in the oven until it is very tender.  When it's ready, just scoop out the seeds and flesh and you are ready to go.

I added a few little cubes of roasted squash as a garnish for extra colour and texture because I had it on hand  (this is totally optional).

Butternut Squash Risotto with Pancetta, Brown Butter and Crisp Sage Leaves:  Serves 4
  • 2 Tablespoons of oil
  • 2 Tablespoons of butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of risotto rice (Carnaroli, Arborio, Vialone Nano)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) of dry white wine
  • 4 cups (1 litre) of chicken or vegetable stock
  • a few torn leaves of fresh sage
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) of butternut squash purée
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) of pecorino or parmesan cheese, grated (+ more as garnish)
For the brown butter and crisp sage leaves: (see below)
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) of salted butter
  • 4- 6 large sage leaves
For the pancetta and roasted butternut nut squash cubes:
  • 4 slices of spicy or smoked pancetta
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) of butternut squash cut in small cubes

1.  Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C) to cook the pancetta and the small roasted butternut squash cubes.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the pancetta slices side by side, in a single layer, to cook.  Place in the centre of your oven for about 15 minutes or until the pancetta has rendered its fat and is starting to crisp.  Transfer to paper towel.  

2.  Add the cubed butternut squash to the baking sheet and stir it to combine it with the rendered oil of the pancetta.  Spread out in an even layer and bake until the cubes are tender and beginning to colour, about 10 - 12 minutes. Set aside.

3.  Place the rice and broth in a large bowl or measuring cup.   Stir a few times to release the surface starch on the rice and strain the broth into a pot placed over medium heat. 

Risotto rice has a high percentage of starch on the surface of the grain.  The starch is necessary to create the creamy sauce that characterizes a good risotto.  Most recipes require toasting the rice before adding the broth and this tends to burn off much of the starch.  By soaking the rice, before toasting it, we can retain much of that wonderful starch and still be able to impart that great toasted flavour to the rice.  The starch will be re-added to the dish when the broth is ladled in.  

4.  Add a few torn leaves of sage to the broth to flavour it and leave it over low heat while you prepare the risotto.  You will be adding it in two steps to the rice while it is cooking.

5.  Use a large pan with high edges (as opposed to a narrower, deeper pot) to cook your risotto in order to have a large portion of rice that is in direct contact with the bottom of the pan and the direct heat.  This cuts down on stirring and cooking time.  

6.  Place the pan over medium high heat and add the oil and butter.  Sauté the rice for about 4 minutes, while stirring, until it toasts and develops a nutty aroma.  Add the shallots and continue to cook for one minute to soften them.   

7.  Add the white wine and stir until it is fully absorbed by the rice.  This will happen very quickly.

8.  Stir the broth before adding to distribute the starch that may have fallen to the bottom of the pot and add all but one cup to the rice.  

9.  Stir into the rice making sure that the liquid and rice are evenly distributed and all the rice is immersed.  Bring back to a boil, lower heat and cover.  After 10 minutes, check on the rice and stir it once, evenly distributing it again.  Cover and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.  

10.  Remove cover and add the butternut squash purée, stirring to blend well into the rice.  Increase the heat to medium and add the final cup of broth.  At this point you will want to taste and gage the texture of the rice.  You may have to add additional liquid (water or broth) if you feel it needs to cook a little longer.  The rice needs to be tender - but not mushy - you want to be able to distinguish the rice grains when you bite into them - and you are looking for the consistency of a very thick, creamy soup.   Add the cheese and adjust seasoning if needed (remember that the pancetta, brown butter and sage are very salty).  

11. Ladle risotto into your serving plate and top with the crisp pancetta, cubes of roasted squash, additional grated pecorino or parmesan and drizzle with a little warmed brown butter (see below).  Add some freshly ground pepper and micro greens or fresh parsley as garish.  Enjoy!

To make the brown butter and crisp sage leaves:

1.  Place the butter in a pan, over medium  heat.  

2.  The butter will go through different stages as it begin to release water and the milk solids begin to brown.  You will notice large bubbles at the beginning of the process.  Stir the butter continuously with a heat proof spatula to make sure it is cooking evenly.  As the large bubbles begin to form, add the sage leaves to fry them.

3.  Continue to watch the browning butter while stirring it with your spatula.  When you see it begin to foam (much smaller bubbles) this is the sign that the colour is about to change and brown.  You will also notice the nutty smell.  Watch it closely at this point and when it reaches the desired colour (you don't want it too brown as it will burn very quickly), transfer it to a heatproof bowl to stop the cooking process.  Remove the sage leaves and place them on a paper towel to allow to cool and crisp.   Stir the brown butter for a about a minute to help cool it down.

4.  Reserve the brown butter and gently reheat before serving.  Brown butter will enhance a number of dishes.  You can also use any remaining butter in cakes or cookies or keep it in the fridge, covered for about 1 month.  It is great to have on hand.

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