Butternut Squash and Fontina Val d’Aosta Risotto
Have you missed me? Or, perhaps the better question is have you missed having some new recipes from Tomatoes and Basil to try?
I apologize for my several-month hiatus. Life this fall was unexpected with work being unusually stressful and hectic, my sister living with us while taking prerequisite nursing classes, my grandmother passing away, several trips to see family, and then, of course, the holidays. I loved having my sister so close–being able to try new recipes with her, sitting and watching girly movies, and just hanging out together. Spending time with my sister and family was a much higher priority (and let’s be honest, way more fun!) than sitting in front of my computer screen after a long day of work and meeting deadlines to write eloquently and persuasively about a delicious and tempting new recipe you have to try. However, with the holidays and crazy deadlines behind me and a new year full of potential ahead, I’m ready to get back to a consistent posting groove. I hope you will stick with me in this new year of recipes and life!
So, to kick off the year, let’s start big! As you know, I love risotto! It is one of my favorite cold-weather comfort foods and so versatile because you can throw almost anything into risotto. I’m always looking for new ideas of how to make risotto different and delicious; my most recent inspiration came from a surprising place. A week before Christmas, I was on the treadmill at the gym, trying to run the work-stress out of my body, and one of the gym staff members changed the channel of the TV hanging in front of my treadmill. Normally, they have the news and Sports Center on all the TVs. (I actually don’t mind watching basketball or baseball games on TV when I’m treadmilling it. It’s a good motivator to keep going.) But, this guy changed it to the Nate Berkus show. I’d never even heard of the show, but it caught my attention because I recognized his guest…Michael Chiarello. Will and I love Michael Chiarello’s restaurant Bottega in Yountville and his former restaurant Tra Vigne in St. Helena. So, of course, I was hooked! Michael was showing Nate Berkus and the audience how to make a dip that Will and I have been trying to figure out how to make for months (look for more on that in a later post!), but then he turned to making butternut squash risotto. Oh my goodness! I was ready to leave the gym early and go home to make it right away. However, I did finish my workout. And, we ended up making the butternut squash risotto with my family a week later. The butternut squash is full of flavor and surprisingly light, enhanced by its combination with the fontina cheese and sage in the risotto. It does take a little bit of time to make this, as you need to prepare the butternut squash prior to starting the risotto, but it’s well worth your time. For the roasted squash, I actually halved the recipe for the seasoning mixture, as the first time we made this, the mixture on top became scorched and we scraped it off. The halved version turned out perfectly though. My altered version is below. Everyone loved this dish, and I will definitely be making this recipe regularly during the fall and winter. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Butternut Squash and Fontina Val d’Aosta Risotto
Adapted from Michael Chiarello
2 cups 1-inch cubes butternut squash (from a 4-pound squash)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon finely shredded fresh sage, or 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
Sea salt, preferably gray salt, and freshly ground black pepper
About 6 cups chicken stock
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
2 cups Arborio rice
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup dry white wine
1 Tablespoon finely shredded fresh sage
3 cups shredded fontina cheese (not packed)
About 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
For the squash: Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Put the squash chunks into a large bowl.
Heat a large sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat and melt the butter until it foams and begins to brown. Add the sage (or the garlic, one or the other but not both), followed by the vinegar and brown sugar. Stand back, as the mixture may spatter. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes to meld the flavors, stirring gently to dissolve the sugar. Pour the mixture over the squash and toss well.
Arrange the squash on the prepared pan, cover with aluminum foil, and bake until very tender and caramelized, about 40 minutes. Remove the foil and increase the oven temperature to 425ºF for 5 minutes to caramelize the squash further. Remove from the oven and baste the squash with the liquid in the pan. Let cool briefly, then puree in a food processor until creamy. For the risotto: In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep it at the barest simmer while you make the risotto.
For the risotto: Heat a large sauté pan or heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil, and cook the onion until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and the minced garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is pearly white with a translucent outer layer. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until very little liquid is left in the pan. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot stock. Reduce the heat to medium-low, keep the rice at a gentle simmer, while stirring frequently, until almost all the liquid is gone. Ladle in 1/2 cup of the hot stock and repeat, ladling in 1/2 cup of stock each time most of the liquid has been absorbed. All together, counting from the first cup of stock, you’ll stir and cook for about 18 to 25 minutes. Taste the rice to decide when it’s done: it should be creamy, firm in the center but without any hint of crunch. Stir in the butternut mixture, remove from the heat, and stir in the shredded sage and the fontina. Serve and enjoy!