Sunday, November 21, 2010

Baked Risotto with Butternut Squash and Sage


Finding a use for leftover ingredients can be a constant struggle in cooking. No one wants to be wasteful, but what are we to do when parsley is only sold in massive bundles, buttermilk is hard to find in containers smaller than one quart, and a single butternut squash is just so bloody big? In our attempts to finish off large boxes of herbs and other such common leftovers, The Gastronomer and I typically find ourselves trekking back to the store for more ingredients to accompany them. This inevitably begets more leftover perishables, and the cycle continues.

This past week, however, the stars aligned for me. The week before we had made a recipe featuring the aforementioned butternut squash, and of course, half of the behemoth was still taking up space in our fridge. While searching through my favorite cookbook for a recipe to use it, I stumbled upon this baked risotto recipe. In addition to sounding delicious and requiring an appropriate portion of butternut squash, it called for fresh sage and chicken broth, both of which we had left over in abundance from The Gastronomer's recent pre-Thanksgiving cooking project. Furthermore, we had several large onions on hand, some leftover white wine, a bag of sliced almonds, just the right amount of Arborio rice, and a Tupperware full of recently-grated Parmesan cheese in the freezer. In a small household such as ours, this was really an astonishing series of coincidences. Clearly, the time was right for this recipe. The risotto turned out fantastic--I'd recommend it even if you don't fortuitously have every single ingredient on hand. Baking risotto is a neat trick to save yourself a half hour of stirring time at the stove while still achieving excellent results.

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, minced
  • salt
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 teaspoons minced fresh sage
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
  • pepper
Adjust an over rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring the broth and bay leaves to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When little bubbles being rising to the surface but the broth hasn't reached a boil, put a lid on the pan and turn down the heat to the lowest possible setting to keep the broth warm.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until lightly browned, about 9 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until the edges begin to turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sprinkle with a pinch of nutmeg, cooking for about 15 seconds, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until it is completely absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Spread the rice mixture into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Stir in the butternut squash and sage, and top with the warm broth. Bake until the squash and rice are tender and the liquid is absorbed, 30 to 35 minutes.

Place almond slices in a skillet and toast on the stove over medium heat until fragrant (about 5 minutes), shaking the skillet occasionally to prevent them from burning.

After removing the baking dish from the oven, stir in the Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top each serving with toasted almonds.

Yield: 6-8 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish time: 50 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Substitutions: The original recipe only called for 1 1/2 teaspoon minced sage, but I used over a tablespoon. The Gastronomer and I thought we could have used even more sage flavor. I didn't weigh the butternut squash but used the whole 1/2 squash that I had on hand. The original recipe listed 1/8 teaspoon saffron as a optional ingredient--I didn't have any and left it out. The extra complexity would have probably been missed more in the simpler variation on the recipe that didn't include squash, sage, and almonds.
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