Butternut Squash Risotto

On Monday night I made Butternut Squash Risotto with Crispy Fried Sage, which reminded me of my Italian culinary roots:

Contrary to popular belief, Le Cordon Bleu wasn’t my first culinary rodeo. The first cooking school that I attended was actually a small operation run out of a ridiculous man’s home in southern Italy…

It was the summer of 2010. I had just moved to Paris with my red lipstick and two months to kill before I started my domestic training at Le Cordon Bleu. There was a heat wave, my apartment did not have air-conditioning, and as I have mentioned before, I didn’t exactly hit the ground running on the Parisian social scene. So, when my friend Annie showed up in Paris and suggested we take a little trip together, I jumped at the opportunity.

I’m not sure whose idea it was, but somehow Annie and I decided to enroll in an Italian cooking school called The Awaiting Table. Based on the things promised to us by the very romantic website, we were going to have the culinary experience of a lifetime! I couldn’t wait to “have garlic under my fingernails and semolina flour handprints on my apron,” or to “use my new Italian chit-chat to talk to the vegetable guy.” I was even promised that by the end of the course I would “no longer feel compelled to follow recipes” because I would be “cooking in a new way.” All of this in one week? Talk about the deal of the century.

Annie and I arrived in the tiny town of Lecce, Italy, bursting with anticipation. We were greeted by the school’s owner and sole instructor, a funny little man by the name of Silvestro Silvestori. Honestly, he was exactly as you would imagine someone with that name to be. He took us to his house, which doubled as the school, for an introductory dinner with the other students. I was very anxious to meet the people that were going to be my new besties for the week. To say that I was unprepared for the motley crew that awaited us would be an understatement.

italian-cooking-school-testimonial
Meet the crew: Angela, Kevin, Dawn, Roger, and Silvestro.

When Annie and I looked around the dinner table it became clear that we were the youngest students by approximately 30 years. To be honest, this didn’t really bother me. I was still hoping there would be some hot Italian man involved (maybe an assistant instructor, or the local butcher or something), and I certainly didn’t want any competition. Overall, I was pleased with the lovable group of weirdos, and Annie and I were still certain that our experience was going to be everything the website had promised.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. It turned out that The Awaiting Table was less of an actual cooking school and more like the strangest week-long party I have ever attended. Our days adhered to the following schedule:

9 am: Breakfast. Coffee and pastries with a side of hungover bitching.

10 am: Shop for the ingredients for lunch at the local markets. This was cute.

11 am: “Cook” lunch. Usually this meant that Silvestro gave each student a task to complete and then did most of the hard stuff himself. For example, chop the mushrooms or play with the pasta dough.

1 pm: 3-course lunch with at least as many glasses of wine.

3 pm: Dirt Nap.

4:30 pm: Cocktails on the terrace.

5:30 pm: “Cook” dinner. This worked much like “cooking” lunch. Except that we were allowed drink while we cooked. (Silvestro preferred that we wait until dinner was “almost ready” before drinking for safety reasons. I don’t think anyone observed that rule.)

8 pm: 4-course dinner. Wine tasting/guzzling.

10 pm: Dance party. This was perhaps the most unexpected and wonderful addition to the program.

Dance Party.

Despite the large quantities of wine and the lack of any serious cooking instruction, Annie and I did have a wonderful time in Lecce. I may not have picked up conversational Italian or left the school with a “new approach to cooking,” but I did develop a deep appreciation for Italian food. Therefore, when I was making my delicious butternut squash risotto on Monday night, I couldn’t help but reminisce about The Awaiting Table and how far I’ve come.  Silvestro would be proud.

This creamy risotto is the perfect combination of sweet and savory. It’s an awesome meal on its own or served as a side dish with chicken, steak, or a piece a fish. If the vegetarian nature of this dish upsets you, feel free to beef up the risotto with some sweet Italian sausage or chorizo.

In case you’re in the market for a new dinner party recipe, this butternut squash risotto is it. It’s ready in under an hour and you can easily double the recipe for a large group. I guarantee your guests will be impressed by your deviation from the standard dinner party offerings of pasta or lasagna. This is so much fancier and more impressive, just like you. The crispy fried sage really throws it over the top. It’s the type of deceptively simple thing that people ooh and ahh over. Everyone is going to be so jealous of your skillz.

Butternut Squash Risotto: (Serves 4)

Ingredients:
3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 cup Arborio Rice
1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil

½ cup dry white wine

4 tbsp parmesan cheese
½ tsp salt

 

Preparing your risotto:

-Place the butternut squash in a pot. Pour in the chicken stock and bring it to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes or until the squash is very tender.

-Remove the squash from the chicken stock using a slotted spoon and set it aside. Keep the chicken stock at a simmer on the stove while you are cooking your risotto.

-Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the minced garlic and onions. Cook for about 3 minutes until the onions become translucent.

-Add the Arborio rice and stir until the rice is coated with fat. Relax, by fat I mean the olive oil.

-Add the white wine and allow it to evaporate completely. This should take about 2 minutes.

-Pour 1 cup warm chicken stock over the rice and cook at a low simmer, stirring periodically.

-When the rice has absorbed the liquid (about 10 minutes), add the second cup of chicken stock. Allow the liquid to absorb and then add the final cup of chicken stock. When the final cup has absorbed, your risotto should be tender a delicious. (If it’s not, don’t panic, just add a little more chicken stock).

-While your risotto is cooking. Puree your butternut squash in a blender with 2 tbsp chicken stock. If you don’t have a blender, you can just mash your squash with a fork or potato masher. It won’t be as smooth, but hey, you do what you can.

-When the risotto is cooked mix in the puree, parmesan cheese and salt.

*Serve topped with crispy fried sage.

Crispy Fried Sage: (Serves 4)

Ingredients:
1 handful sage leaves
¼ cup olive oil
¼ tsp salt

 

Preparing your fried sage:

-In a large pan heat the olive oil until very hot (you should see tiny bubbles).

-Fry the sage leaves in batches. The leaves only take about 3-5 seconds to crisp up! (Seriously, that fast. Be careful. I learned this the hard way).

-Remove the leaves from the oil and place them on a paper towel to drain.

-Sprinkle with salt and serve with your risotto! Fancy as shit.

Butternut Squash Risotto

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup Arborio Rice
  • 1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 4 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Place the butternut squash in a pot. Pour in the chicken stock and bring it to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes or until the squash is very tender. Remove the squash from the chicken stock using a slotted spoon and set it aside. Keep the chicken stock at a simmer on the stove while you are cooking your risotto.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the minced garlic and onions. Cook for about 3 minutes until the onions become translucent.
  3. Add the Arborio rice and stir until the rice is coated with fat. Relax, by fat I mean the olive oil.
  4. Add the white wine and allow it to evaporate completely. This should take about 2 minutes.
  5. Pour 1 cup warm chicken stock over the rice and cook at a low simmer, stirring periodically.
  6. When the rice has absorbed the liquid (about 10 minutes), add the second cup of chicken stock. Allow the liquid to absorb and then add the final cup of chicken stock. When the final cup has absorbed, your risotto should be tender a delicious. (If it’s not, don’t panic, just add a little more chicken stock).
  7. While your risotto is cooking. Puree your butternut squash in a blender with 2 tbsp chicken stock. If you don’t have a blender, you can just mash your squash with a fork or potato masher. It won’t be as smooth, but hey, you do what you can.
  8. When the risotto is cooked mix in the puree, parmesan cheese and salt.
  9. Serve topped with crispy fried sage.
http://domesticate-me.com/butternut-squash-risotto/

Crispy Fried Sage

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 handful sage leaves
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ tsp salt

Instructions

  1. In a large pan heat the olive oil until very hot (you should see tiny bubbles).
  2. Fry the sage leaves in batches. The leaves only take about 3-5 seconds to crisp up! (Seriously, that fast. Be careful. I learned this the hard way).
  3. Remove the leaves from the oil and place them on a paper towel to drain.
  4. Sprinkle with salt and serve.
http://domesticate-me.com/butternut-squash-risotto/
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  • Anonymous

    Hey Serena,

    You did not include white wine in the ingredient list! How much should be used? Thank you and sounds delish xo

    • Oops! It’s 1/2 a cup dry white wine. And you can definitely use the cheap stuff.

      • Unless cooking like Silvestro, in which case … a case! Right? 😉

  • Oh wow! First off, I am so jealous of your culinary adventures in Italy. Just going to Italy as a turist is something that I have on my bucket list! Secondly, this risotto looks just heavenly. Perfectly cooked!

    • You MUST go to Italy, for no other reason than to eat carbs and listen to the accents…

  • Hearing your experience of Italy made me laugh! Sounds great fun (even if it was young-hot-Italian male lacking). Great sounding risotto too – love the fried sage leaves.

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  • Brittany Elizabeth Fischer

    Serena, I am officially IN LOVE with your blog. Even though I write
    about beauty and you write about food, I love reading your posts for
    inspiration! My goal is always to engage people with the writing alone,
    so that they enjoy reading my stuff even if they are not actually
    interested in the subject. Your blog is a shining example of this! In a
    universe of blogs that are filled with great recipes and beautiful
    photos, but awful, dry, icky writing, I find myself reading your stuff
    as much for the funny stories and the witty jokes as I am for the
    recipes themselves–more, even! Thanks so much for creating this masterpiece!!!

    xoxo Brittany
    http://www.theglossypages.com

    • Serena_Wolf

      Thank you so much, Britanny! This comment literally made my day. I’m thrilled that you like reading my posts, since I share your goal of entertaining those who aren’t necessarily into domesticity/cooking. Based on your epic comment, I naturally checked out glossy pages, which was a huge mistake as I will now be reading it backwards for days. I’m a sucker for all things that make me prettier, especially when they are accompanied by intelligent/hilarious writing, so thank you for that. xox

  • That sounds like a true lifetime experience, and I am a little bit jealous I never did anything like that. Maybe some day _I_ will be the 30 years older lady in the dance party! 😉
    The risotto sounds soooo good, I have to go check my pantry for arborio rice this instant…! 😀