Butternut Squash & Sausage Risotto

November 22, 2011

20111122-063218.jpg Cooking and eating risotto makes me happy. Cooking butternut squash with sweet sausage risotto make me very happy. The process takes a bit of time, but the reward is incredibly worth it. There are many, many variations on how to make risotto. From the liquids you choose to add, to the usage of butter or olive oil. This is mine. I hope you enjoy.

I prefer sweet sausage for this, but if you like things a bit spicier, then by all means use spicy sausage. Cook up a package of ground sausage meat. Set aside. Peel a butternut squash. Cut into cubes. Scatter on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a healthy amount of olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or as long as your oven takes to get them soft, a bit caramelized, but not completely falling apart. Set aside. My secret to this dish is I also add a package of pureed squash that you find in the freezer section at the grocery store close to the end of the cooking process. It just bumps up the squash quotient to the dish, and it also turns the risotto the orange-ish color I love. Take out of freezer, set aside.

I like having both the sausage and the butternut squash done, so full concentration can go into the cooking of the risotto. It is fine if both completely cool while they are sitting, because they will warm right back up once they have been put into the warm risotto at the end.

OK, here we go. Risotto. Cooking it scares some people, other people say how easy it is. I fall in the middle. I have made risotto for many years, and it was a bit of trial & error at first. This is what I have learned works. My biggest error at first is I did not have the chicken stock that you add ladle by ladle as the risotto cooks, hot enough. You will need 8 cups of chicken stock, homemade is preferred, but stock in a box is also completely fine. Heat up the stock to not quite a boil, then turn down the heat a bit, but the stock should remain hot thru the entire risotto cooking process.

Next, and here is where I like to use a good sized Le Creuset pot for cooking the risotto in, add a liberal dose of butter and cook a diced onion and shallot till they are not quite brown. Then add a good amount of olive oil to that, along with 2 cups of arborio rice. It is essential that you use arborio rice for this. Coat the rice with the butter and oil mixture, and sauté for a minute or two to cook thru, but don’t brown the rice. All of the above is done over medium heat, but stove tops vary greatly, so adjust accordingly.

Now the liquids begin. Add one cup of white wine to the mixture. I like to use a white that we will be serving with the meal. Stir rice till the wine is absorbed. The depth of flavor the wine adds to the finished product is really noticeable. Now the waiting hot stock takes center stage. Add one cup of stock to the mixture, stirring till the stock is fully absorbed. What holds many folks back about making risotto is there is a good amount of stirring involved. A constant stir is not necessary, but pretty close. This is where the white wine you opened comes in quite nicely. Sipping a little white wine during the risotto making process is a personal favorite–it is my break from stirring. Continue adding the hot stock one cup at a time, and the rice will become creamier as you go, as it releases the natural starches. Add the 7th cup of stock. At this point, you will be about 20 to 25 minutes into the rice cooking process. You are almost there. Now add the package of pureed squash. It is fine if it is still a bit frozen in parts, as it will quickly break apart and incorporate once it hits the hot mixture. Stir. Now add the sausage that you prepared earlier. Stir. Add a cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Then add almost all of the butternut squash you roasted earlier, reserving the prettier pieces for garnishing the top of the finished risotto. Stir. Turn off the heat. Add your last cup of stock. Stir. Put on the lid. Let sit for 5 minutes, have another sip of your white wine, as we are almost done.

Once that 5 minutes has passed, give it one last stir. In a bowl add the risotto mixture, then add a few pieces of the roasted butternut squash, and finally a few sprinkles of the grated Parmesan. A bit of work, but that will all fade away when you have your first bite.