My famous butternut squash risotto recipe, with spinach, pancetta and pine nuts. Beautiful colours; strong, autumnal flavours. Don’t be put off by the lengthy method – this recipe is all about putting one thing aside, whilst you move onto another. Very therapeutic. Interestingly, I have never used wine when making this particular risotto. I am prepared to pay for my sins.
Butternut Squash Risotto (Serves 4)
50 ml olive oil plus some for drizzling
1 large butternut squash
Salt and pepper for seasoning
1 large white onion
200g arborio risotto rice
1 litre vegetable stock, give or take
100g grated parmesan
200g fresh spinach leaves
80g diced pancetta (or you can cube some yourself)
50 g fresh pine nuts
Preheat oven to 190-200C. Prepare the butternut squash. Peel the skin and remove the seeds. This can be tricky: I suggest a large knife, and placing a tea towel underneath your chopping board to prevent any dangerous slipping. Cube the prepared squash into roughly 2cm cubes, doesn’t have to be neat. Place squash in large baking tray, drizzle generously with olive oil. Season. Mix it all about so everything is coated in lovely oil. Place in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the squash is really browning on the edges and getting chewy on the corners.
Whilst the squash is cooking, start the risotto. Prepare the stock: heat roughly 1 litre of water in a saucepan and add the appropriate amount of vegetable stock cubes or gel, whatever you like. Whilst the stock is heating, cut the white onion into cubes, as small as you can manage. But don’t grate it. Heat the 50ml of olive oil in another large saucepan over medium heat, then add the onion and cook at a good pace, until soft and golden on the edges.
Now pour your 200g of arborio rice in with your onions. Stir so that all of the rice grains are coated in the oil. Cook them so you can hear the rice sizzling, until it begins to go translucent slightly. At this point, you can begin adding the hot stock to the rice, one cup at a time. You add a cup, stir occasionally, until most of the stock has been absorbed, then you add the next cup.
Tip 1: If you have the waxy end of a parmesan block left, after you’ve grated your 100g, you can add this block into the rice during cooking, and it will add even more flavour. Remember to remove it once done.
Tip 2: You will have to adjust the temperature of your heat throughout cooking. This is fine and good to do! If the risotto is bubbling like crazy, turn the heat down! Also, keep your stock hot so that it is easier to work with, but this doesn’t necessarily mean keep the heat on under it. You can usually just keep the lid on the stock saucepan whilst cooking.
Continue adding the stock until you reach a consistency you are happy with. You may use less or more than the 1 litre I suggest here. I always try the risotto in order to tell if it is done. The rice should be al dente, not sloppy. You want bite and movement, but not like a thick mash you have to flick off of the spoon. Once satisfied, add your grated parmesan to the risotto and stir to melt. Now, add all of the fresh spinach and stir it into the rice so it is all covered. It will wilt itself. Turn off the heat and allow the risotto to sit. This is good practice.
Check on your butternut squash. If it’s done, just turn off the oven and let it sit in there. I usually put my plates into the turned off oven at this point, to warm them up. Now cook your pancetta in a frying pan, and brown your pine nuts in another. Both will be done very quickly, so keep an eye. I like the pancetta very crispy, that’s easy. The pine nuts must be kept moving around the pan though, so that they are browned evenly and don’t burn.
When those are done, remove the pine nuts to a small bowl, and let the pancetta sit. Take the squash from the oven, and put roughly half to three quarters of the cubes into a food blender or bowl with hand blender. Or you can blend with a fork with some elbow grease. Blend to a smoothish paste.
Scrape the paste into your risotto. Stir to combine – it will turn a stunning orange hue. Serve up the risotto onto warm plates. Evenly serve the cubes of squash left onto each mound of risotto. Now evenly serve the pancetta on top also. Place the pine nuts in the bowl out onto the table, with a spoon, so people can garnish as they wish. Also make sure you serve with some more parmesan to grate over. Gorgeous!