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Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage Brown Butter

Risotto: a northern Italian rice dish cooked in a broth to a creamy consistency. It’s an simple recipe with a lot of history, and when you give it the time and respect it deserves, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a staple of Italian cuisine, rich in traditions, rules, and techniques, developed over generations of Nona’s. They figured out all of the specifics required to achieve this creamy creation, now all we have to do is follow their lead.

One of the reasons I love risotto is how versatile it is. You can make it with meat or seafood, showcase your favorite seasonal vegetables, and play around with different types of wine, butter, and onions. But in order to get that naturally creamy consistency, you MUST use short grain rice. Short grain rice, like Arborio and Carnaroli, are high in starch and help to thicken the broth and create a smooth, creamy texture. Tradition calls for the rice to be continually stirred, which loosens the starch, and further thickens the broth. Properly cooked risotto should be rich and creamy, and the grains should be al dente (‘toothy’). Correct risotto texture is fluid, or ‘all’onda’ (which means ‘wavy’ or ‘flowing in waves’). However, you don’t want it too ‘wavy,’ otherwise it’ll resemble more of a soup than risotto.

In this particular recipe, I chose to feature one of my favorite seasonal fall vegetables; butternut squash. This batch of butternut was from New Family farm, who provide us with a large variety of local, seasonal vegetables. The sweet and nutty squash pairs so naturally with the brown butter and crispy sage. It is the epitome of winter comfort food. However, feel free to substitute another winter squash, such as kabocha, acorn, or even pumpkin. The brown butter makes this dish so comforting, and the fried sage adds that little extra level of flavor you didn’t know you needed. This is definitely a dish that will impress your family this holiday season.

Like I said before, this is a very versatile dish, and really melds with the seasons. Some other seasons I love to showcase with risotto; spring time asparagus, summer time fresh cherry tomatoes, for a juicy, tangy risotto, and wild mushrooms of all seasons, especially porcini and chanterelles.

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For the squash puree:
• 1 small butternut squash
• ½ c (1 stick) of butter
• salt and lemon to taste

Cut the squash in half length-wise and scoop out the seeds. Lay it cut side up on a sheet tray and drizzle with olive oil and salt. Bake at 325 degrees F for about 40 minutes, or until it is soft and fork tender. Allow it to cool slightly, then peel off the skin. Put the flesh into a food processor with the butter and puree until smooth. Season to taste.

For the sage brown butter:
• ¼ c ( ½ stick) of unsalted butter
• a few sage leaves
• ¼ of a lemon, juiced
• salt to taste

In a heavy bottom pot, melt the butter over low heat. Carefully swirl it occasionally, so as to encourage even browning. Once the butter has turned a dark golden brown, add your sage leaves so they can toast. Don’t add them too early, otherwise they will burn. When the butter has turned a dark hazelnut brown and smells nutty, turn off the flame and add your lemon juice away from heat. This will stop the browning process, but be carefully, the butter will bubble a little and could splatter. Salt to taste.

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For the Winter Squash Risotto:
• 1 lb short grain rice (Arborio or carnaroli)
• 1 medium white onion, small diced
• ½ c dry white wine
• 4 c vegetable stock
• 1 c butternut squash puree
• grated parmigiano to finish
• salt to taste

In a heavy bottom pot, sauté the onion in olive oil until softened. Add the rice and allow it to toast slightly, stirring to prevent any burning. Add the wine to deglaze and stir until it evaporates. Add in the stock, about 1 cup at a time, and stir, allowing each cup of liquid to be absorbed, before adding the next cup. The rice should be al dente or “toothy” after all the liquid is absorbed. Stir in the squash puree and a large handful of parmigiano cheese. Season to taste with salt and lemon.
Plate in your favorite pasta bowl and garnish with the sage brown butter and a sprinkle of parmigiano.

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