Roasted Butternut Squash and Saffron Risotto

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto


Fear Conquered: Risotto

It all started with a brilliant flash of cranberry risotto enlightenment. Just think. Vibrant red sauce with all the tart, healthful goodness of those bright little berries. What could possibly go wrong?

1 Cup Arborio Rice

I announce my intentions to Boyfriend Javelin. "I really want to try a butternut squash cranberry risotto," I say. "With maybe some saffron and vanilla." I'm feeling especially inspired, toying with the option of a little cinnamon too. But I don't mention it. Because I can always surprise him later with my sophisticated genius.

Boyfriend Javelin frowns but doesn't verbally object. "Okay," he says, a little warily. "But won't the cranberries be a little intense?"

I favor him with the smug smile of a master at work. "I know why you might think that," I say, the tiniest bit patronizing. "But I'm only going to use just enough to enhance the butternut squash."

Boyfriend Javelin raises his eyebrows. "If you say so," he says. "I just hope it's more than a pile of squash and cranberries..."

"Never you mind," I say confidently, visions of cinnamon sticks floating through my head. Using them to scoop up the risotto from our plates in the most sophisticated of ways...

Butternut Squash Halves with Seeds

But not even the best cinnamon sticks could salvage that culinary abomination. Two bites in and Boyfriend Javelin looks over a fork-full of cranberry-bastardized risotto and shakes his head. "I don't think you should try THIS again," he says.

"Well," I say, just the tiniest bit defensive. "I think the REAL problem is, there's too much cinnamon." And I force myself to swallow a particularly toxic bite.

"The problem IS," Boyfriend Javelin says pointedly, "there's too much of a LOT of things." He dramatically scrapes a cranberry off a piece of squash and flings it to the edge of his plate. "Starting with the cranberries," he says grimly.

To be fair, there were a lot of problems with that first risotto. It wasn't entirely the fault of cranberries. There was after all the competing saffron and vanilla to contend with. And the utterly useless cinnamon. But it was mostly the cranberries.

First tip (likely unnecessary): don't try to mix saffron with vanilla. The flavors just wage an epic battle for dominance that's neither enlightened nor satisfying. And if you're going to use cranberries, let their brash, bold and obnoxiously tart voice sing alone. But for the love of all risottos everywhere, please don't add fresh cranberries. Not to risotto. Just…don't.

Measuring Spanish Saffron

Do add saffron. Nothing warms up risotto quite the same as a pinch of these delicately spiced stamens - and it pairs beautifully with butternut squash. Add a little smoked bacon for comfort and some chopped nuts for added texture - and you've got a sophisticated one-pot meal.

Only don't be intimidated by the word risotto. Or by the tomes written on techniques for crafting a perfectly creamy texture. Risotto is nothing more than little grains of especially starchy rice gradually cooked in a small amount of liquid until toothsome (which may vary if your name is Boyfriend Javelin). The starch released by the rice thickens the stock to give risotto its creamy texture. As long as you go slow and give the rice a chance to absorb the cooking liquid as it releases starch, you can't mess this up.

Well, you could. You could add cranberries.


Photo Tutorial

Small Butternut Squash with Peeler
Start with 1 small butternut squash.

Peeled Butternut Squash with Ends Removed
Peel and remove the ends from the squash.

Butternut Squash Halved
Cut the squash in half.

Butternut Squash Halves with Seeds
Cut each half in half, lengthwise.

Butternut Squash Seeds Removed
Scoop out and discard the seeds and pulp from the squash.

Dicing Butternut Squash
Evenly dice the butternut squash. I like to use my chopper gadget to make quick work of this.

Misting Butternut Squash with Olive Oil
Toss the squash with a small amount of olive oil (I use my Misto and just spray the squash). Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt.

Butternut Squash on Baking Sheet
Roast the squash in an even layer on a large baking sheet for 30-35 minutes at 400F.

6 Rashers of Smoked Bacon
You will need 6 rashers of smoked bacon.

Diced Bacon
Dice the bacon.

Crispy Bacon in Pot
In a large pot or dutch oven, fry the bacon until crispy.

Dicing Yellow Onion
While the bacon fries, dice 1 medium yellow onion.

1/2 Yellow Bell Pepper with Dicer
Optionally dice 1/2 of a yellow or orange bell pepper.

Onion and Bell Pepper Added to Bacon
Add the onion (and bell pepper, if using) to the crispy bacon and saute for 5 minutes until softened.

1 Cup Arborio Rice
Add 1 cup arborio rice to the pot.

3 Garlic Cloves with Garlic Press
Mince or press 3 garlic cloves and add to the pot.

Arborio Rice and Garlic Added to Onions and Peppers
Stir to combine the rice, onion, pepper, garlic and bacon. Let the rice cook for 2 minutes.

1 Cup White Wine
You will need 1 cup of white wine. I use whatever I have on hand at the time (it varies).

Adding White Wine to Pot
Add the wine to the pot and give everything a stir. Let the rice absorb the wine for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

1/4 teaspoon Freshly Grated Nutmeg
Finely grate 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, packed. If using ground nutmeg, reduce to 1/8 teaspoon.

Measuring Spanish Saffron
Roughly measure 3/4 teaspoon of Spanish saffron.

Saffron and Seasoning Added to Risotto
Add the saffron and nutmeg to the risotto. Stir through.

4 Cups Homemade Chicken Stock
You will need 3 1/2 - 4 cups of homemade chicken stock.

Adding Chicken Stock to Risotto
Gradually add the stock to the risotto, 1/2 cup  at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the stock for 5 minutes between each addition, stirring frequently (but not continuously). The rice will slowly absorb the stock - stop adding stock once the rice is toothsome (to your taste).

3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
After the risotto has absorbed the stock, add 3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter.

Butter Added to Risotto
The butter helps keep the sauce silky.

Butternut Squash Added to Risotto
Add the roasted butternut squash to the risotto and stir through.

1/2 Cup Chopped Pecans
You will need 1/2 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts.

Pecans Added to Risotto
Add the nuts to the risotto and stir through.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
Serve the risotto immediately with a grating of fresh parmesan cheese.


Roasted Butternut Squash and Saffron Risotto

    by Javelin Warrior
     Prep Time: 45 min
     Cook Time: 1 hr 15 min

Ingredients (serves 6)
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
  • Olive oil
  • 6 rashers smoked bacon, finely diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper, finely diced (optional)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/4 cups uncooked arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3/4 teaspoon Spanish saffron
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 4 cups homemade chicken stock, warmed
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  1. Preheat the oven to 400℉
  2. Toss the diced butternut squash with a small amount of olive oil (I like to mist mine using a Misto), 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt; evenly spread the squash on a large baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes
  3. Meanwhile, heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat and fry the bacon until crispy
  4. Add the onion and bell pepper to the crispy bacon and sauté for 5 minutes until softened; stir in the arborio rice and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes
  5. Add the white wine, saffron, nutmeg and reserved salt and pepper to the rice mixture and stir thoroughly; allow the rice to absorb the wine for 5 minutes, stirring frequently
  6. Reduce the heat to low and add 1/2 cup of warm stock to the risotto and stir through; allow the rice to absorb the stock for 5 minutes, stirring frequently (but not continuously); repeat with the remaining stock, adding 1/2 cup approximately once every 5 minutes
  7. After the rice has absorbed the last of the stock, add the the butter and stir through until completely absorbed; stir in the roasted butternut squash and chopped nuts and heat through if necessary
  8. Serve immediately with a grating of fresh parmesan cheese; leftover risotto can be reheated with a teaspoon or two of milk (per serving) to restore original creaminess
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Hungry for Tips?
  • Technique: Contrary to what I've often read, you don't have to stir risotto continuously. Just add a little liquid, give the rice a stir and let it cook for a minute or so. Then give it another stir, followed by more cooking. And so on. Keep adding liquid as the rice absorbs it and never let the rice get sticky or dry. When I make risotto, I'm rarely standing over the pot the entire time - I just stay close and keep an eye on things.

    Adding Chicken Stock to Risotto
  • Vegetarian: It's so easy to make risotto vegetarian or even vegan. For vegetarians, leave out the bacon, use vegetable stock (instead of chicken) and add an extra handful of nuts. Vegans can skip the added butter and grating of parmesan cheese at the end - I often forget it anyway! Thanks to the wonder of starchy rice, this dish is creamy and comforting without even a drop of dairy.
  • Squash vs. Pumpkin: Come autumn, everyone seems to trip over themselves in a rush for the closest pumpkin. Personally, I don't think pumpkin is all that tasty and the texture is far from appetizing. I much prefer butternut squash with its warm flavor, lovely texture and vibrant color. But if you're bent on pumpkin, feel free to make the swap. But don't say I didn't try to persuade you otherwise.

    Butternut Squash Seeds Removed
  • Bell Pepper: I often feel like risotto is heavy on starch and not enough on vegetable - especially if I'm relying on this as a one-pot meal. So sometimes I like to add a little yellow bell pepper, just to feel a little more healthful. If you go the bell pepper route, don't use red or green - they're far too intense in flavor.

    1/2 Yellow Bell Pepper with Dicer
  • Orzo vs. Arborio Rice: If you don't care for rice, you can make this exact same recipe using orzo pasta instead. Use the same technique for cooking the orzo as you would the rice - the pasta will slowly release the starch resulting in a creamy (if faux) risotto. I've done this many times and it works well - and sometimes I'm just not in the mood for rice.
  • Fresh Nutmeg: Freshly grated nutmeg is much more delicate in flavor and less-intense in potency compared to ground nutmeg. If using ground nutmeg, cut it back to 1/8 teaspoon.

    1/4 teaspoon Freshly Grated Nutmeg

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  1. hey nice post meh, You are one of the best writers I've seen of recent. I love your style of blogging here. this post reminds me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog: How To Think Right .
    keep up the good work friend. I will be back to read more of your posts.


  2. Wow, that looks really nourishing and conforting as well as sunny! My tummy is warming up just looking at it. I want to try a veggie version of this xx

  3. Thanks for the kind words, Deena, and I'm so glad you enjoyed. It would be very simple to make all veggie version - I've done it myself multiple times...

  4. Sabrina Spiher RobinsonOctober 23, 2013 at 2:28 PM

    I am going to advise that in my experience, using olive oil over 325 degrees creates a bitter taste because the oil is delicate and breaks down in some weird way. I kept getting these bitter brussels sprouts and wandering what the hell my problem was, and then switched to canola, a high heat-tolerant oil, and voila, no more bitterness. Since then, I'm on a kind of proselytizing missions with other cooks -- don't roast things in olive oil, since roasting almost always means high heat. Even if you think you can't really detect the bitterness because it's masked by other flavors, try doing your veggie roasting with canola, and then, if you still want the olive oil flavor, add a little when you serve the dish. I am willing to guarantee you'll notice a pleasant difference.

  5. A great tip, Sabrina - and something probably masked in this recipe by the pepper and inherent butternut squash flavor. I typically use olive oil for just about everything (including baking) but you've got a good point. Olive oil definitely has a much lower smoke point than canola so it make sense it could lend bitterness at high temps...

  6. That conversation sounds a whole lot like ones that I've absolutely had with my family before. I get these crazy ideas for ambitious flavor's not often that anyone else gets nearly as excited when I try to explain my plans to them.

  7. It happens somewhat frequently for me ;) Sometimes the ideas work out and I surprise even myself. Most of the's more like this :/

  8. Haha exactly! There are also lots of times where although I wind up loving family politely lets me have all the leftovers ;)

  9. lol That happens to me too! Hmmm... ;)

  10. I've made risotto plenty of times, but never with either cranberry or squash. You did a great job with this! Although I actually think the cinnamon would work with the cranberry - but having not tried it, what do I know? Fun post - thanks.

  11. I'd agree, cinnamon generally works with cranberry - especially the dried, sweetened variety. I'm not so sure about the tart, fresh variety - but it'd be worth a try, just those two flavors. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post and now I need to branch out with risotto a bit...

  12. I really like the recipe. I featured your recipe on my Friday Five - Risotto addition at Feed Your Soul Too. Thx for submitting. Peter

  13. Thank you so much for the feature, Peter - I'm flattered and very grateful! I'm glad you enjoyed...

  14. Bacon too? You're killing me! :) This risotto is definitely going on my "must make" list! Thanks for the heads-up on the cranberries.

  15. I'm so glad you enjoyed, MJ! I could also imagine this risotto with a spicy sausage - but I haven't tried that yet ;)


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