The last time I made this lovely dish was last Christmas. This was my "special occassion" or "company coming over for dinner" side dish, until last week when I simply felt like making it because we haven't had it in a long time and it sounded good.
Ina Garten's Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash was my first attempt at risotto ever, years ago. Before that I never bothered to make it, I would always order it at restauransts if it was on the menu from seafood risotto to mushroom risotto. The reason for that, is that it's a rice dish and I don't know how to cook plain ol'rice on the stove top. The only way I know how to cook rice is in a rice cooker. I'm sure you're wondering...but your Asian, you should know how to cook rice on the stove. Ask my husband, he'll back me up on this.
Risotto is not just any kind of rice dish, it's special. Risotto has to be toasted in butter/oil and spices/vegetable (like onions or garlic) of some sort, then cooked with broth, letting the rice absorb the broth and repeating this step in intervals, until the rice is tender and the dish is creamy. I had always heard how difficult risotto was to make. Honestly, it's not that it's difficult, it's time consuming, about 20 to 30 minutes. You can't just walk away from it, like you would a rice cooker.
The other thing, I like to use a wooden spoon when I'm making risotto, it doesn't scratch the bottom of my pan, it creates friction between the grains, and it doesn't transfer as much heat. A metal spoon could possibly scratch your pan, the grains would slide off a metal spoon and you could have unevenly cooked rice. And a plastic spoon is not sturdy enough, so go with wood!
Once you learn the risotto method, you can make all kinds of risotto recipes!
ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO
Adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa
1 medium (about 2 pound) butternut squash, peeled, deseeded, cut into 1/2-3/4 inch chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon house seasoning (1 cup coarse salt, 1/4 black pepper, 1/4 garlic powder)
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I used vegetable broth)
1 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads, optional
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, season to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
<preparing the butternut squash>
Peel with a vegetable peeler and cut into 1/2-3/4 inch chunks.
Transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet.
Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with house seasoning.
Mix until all chunks are coated; spread into a single layer.
Roast for about 25 minutes, just until tender. Set aside.
Turn off oven.
<heating the broth>
Pour the broth and water into a small saucepan or pot.
Bring it to a simmer, then turn heat down to low.
Keep it on low and close to the pan where you'll be cooking the risotto.
<cooking the risotto>
Place the butter, onions and bacon in a large dutch-oven or heavy-bottomed pot.
Saute over medium to medium-high heat for 4 to 6 minutes, until the onions are softened.
Turn heat to medium.
Add the rice, stir and allow to toast for 2 or 3 minutes.
Add the wine and stir until almost all of the wine is absorbed, about 1 minute.
Add 2 full ladles of broth, then add the saffron threads, salt and black pepper.
Stir and allow the rice to aborb the broth before you add more. (As if the liquid has evaporated.)
Add 2 full ladles of broth let the rice aborb it again, stirring regularly.
Do this until the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes.
<assembling the dish>
Remove from heat.
Stir in the parmesan cheese and roasted butternut squash.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
This is a great side dish, but it can also be your main dish.
For saffron threads, go to your spice aisle at the grocery store. I find that it's less expensive at an international grocery store. I go to Fiesta for saffron threads, oh and for their roasted corn with queso fresco.
Towards the end of the cooking process, taste the risotto for tenderness.
Do not be alarmed if you have leftover broth/water mixture. On the other hand if you need more liquid, heat water or broth in the microwave. Make sure the liquid is hot before you pour it into the risotto mixture.
Never leave your risotto alone. It will stick to the bottom of the pan and possibly burn.