Butternut Squash Risotto with Crispy Pancetta

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Since stubborn Old Man Winter can’t seem to relinquish his firm hold in this part of the country, (I can hear him snickering with evil glee) here I am still making hearty winter dishes. Don’t mistake me. I do love filling, cold-weather appropriate meals, but while I was stirring this delicious risotto I found myself daydreaming about garden-fresh asparagus, garlic scape, strawberries, and the clinking of ice in my Caipirinha while I stand in the dappled sunlight of my backyard with the grill smoking in the distance. Anyhoo, back to the kitchen with multiple feet of snow still leering at me through the window… Can you tell I am tired of the cold? ☺

I thought I needed a little something to cheer myself up, so I chose a recipe with my favorite comfort food, risotto. This lovely version has crispy pancetta, little sticks of butternut squash, sage, and finished (of course) with Parmesan cheese. Eat your heart out Old Man.

from: Food + Wine
servings: 8 (I halved this recipe as there are only 2 of us)

4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, cut into ¼ inch strips

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
one 1½ pound butternut squash-peeled, halved, seeded & cut into 1 ½ x ¼ inch sticks
8 sage leaves
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
5 ½ cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced (I used a red onion)
2 ½ cups Arborio rice (19 ounces)
1 cup dry white wine (I used
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

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In a large skillet, cook the pancetta over moderate heat until crisp, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the fat in the skillet. Add the squash and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the sage, season with salt and pepper and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the squash to the bowl with the pancetta.

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In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm.

In a large saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Add ½ cup of the hot stock and cook, stirring, until absorbed. Continue adding the stock, about ½ cup at a time, and stirring constantly until it is nearly absorbed before adding more. Keep tasting the risotto for doneness, you made need to add more hot stock than the recipe calls for, depending on the heat of the stove and how quickly the rice is absorbing the liquid.  I had to add more than an extra cup. The risotto is done when the rice is just tender and the liquid is creamy, about 20 minutes.

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Stir the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and the ½ cup of Parmesan into the risotto. Gently fold in the squash and pancetta. Taste and season with salt if necessary. The pancetta and Parmesan add a good bit of salty flavor all by themselves. Spoon the risotto into warmed bowls and serve, passing extra Parmesan at the table.

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Wine Pairing: serve with Müller-Thurgau or a Riesling with notes of herb & citrus. If you’re not much of a wine snob like me, just drink with the wine you cooked with. (Instead of buying two wines, I just get a decent one to cook with that is also drinkable.) However, if you’re serving to a large group or entertaining, a nice bottle of wine is a good idea.

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