Butternut Squash Brown Rice with Fontina and Thyme
Last Sunday, I accompanied my roommate to see the Vienna Boys’ Choir at Carnegie Hall. I don’t know much about choirs, but apparently these kids are super famous, and some friends recommended we see them live. I tend to trust others’ fancy musical opinions (because I have none!) and was therefore excited for these Viennese kids to knock my seasonal socks off. Perhaps seeing choirs would be my new hobby! As my current hobbies include #lobbyselfies, bathing, and testing skincare products, adding something musical/cultural would be uncharacteristically adult.
Like I said, I don’t know much about choirs, and I mostly pictured these boys as the children’s choir from Sister Act 2. I was also told they would sing a lot of Christmas carols, which I very much enjoy. So, when I woke up Sunday terrifyingly hungover slightly under the weather from celebrating a friend’s birthday, I convinced myself that I’d be absolutely fine at this concert. Eating snacks while a bunch of children sing Oh Happy Day and Jingle Bell Rock to me in Carnegie Hall? Fun!!
Dear God, I was wrong.
I won’t go into too much detail here, but let’s just say that these boys’ voices were high. So very, very high. And some of them were capable of holding extreme high notes for impressively long periods of time. Almost none of the songs were in English, and there was one piece in which the soloists mimicked cats for what seemed like 30 minutes, shrieking singing, “Meee-ow, Meeeeeee-ow, Meeeeeeeeeeee-owww, MEEEE-OWWWW” at each other. This made me feel rather anxious and also led to one of those silent laughing fits where tears stream down my face, and I give myself a cramp and a headache. This made Logan start cracking up, making me laugh even harder. Inappropriate.
Oh, and the Christmas songs felt distinctly un-festive because a.) I did not know these specific songs, and b.) I don’t think the boys are supposed to smile. Ever.
Lest you think I’ve gone full Debbie Downer on you, friends, I was just getting to the happy part! I’m incredibly grateful for my Vienna Boys’ Choir experience for several reasons. First, I finally got to see Carnegie Hall, which was every bit as majestic as I imagined. Second, I can cross “choir groupie” off my list of potential hobbies (it is helpful to know what you do NOT like in life as well as what you do!). And finally, my boredom and angst during the concert led to my spending almost two full hours daydreaming about food, which reminded me that I had completely forgotten to share this fabulous Butternut Squash Brown Rice with Fontina and Thyme with you. Silver lining to end all silver linings!
I originally created this recipe as a potential Thanksgiving side, but I’ve since come around to it as an epic one-pot vegetarian meal. The rice takes on a dreamy risotto-like texture, and the foolproof combo of butternut squash, nutty-sweet Fontina, and fresh thyme is like a seasonal koala hug for the soul.
This rice is so good I’d be willing to devote quinoa bake levels of time and effort to its preparation, but I love it all the more for the fact that it’s SO SIMPLE. Just sauté some minced garlic and onion, stir in the brown rice, cubed squash, herbs, and broth, and simmer for 35 minutes. Give everything a good mix to break down the squash, then fold in the cheese. Bing, bang, boom. It takes less than an hour from start to finish, and only about 20 minutes of that is hands-on time (5-10 if you use pre-cubed butternut squash).
As I mentioned, I dig this recipe as a vegetarian meal, but meat lovers should feel free to add some diced pancetta or sausage into the mix. It’s also a delightful holiday side–it would be perfect alongside turkey, beef tenderloin, or ham!–and leftovers are bomb with an egg on top.
RECAP: Thank you to the Vienna Boys’ Choir for reminding me to share this recipe. (And to re-watch Sister Act 2.) Make cheesy butternut rice ASAP. Joy to the world, etc.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion minced
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1¾ cups short grain brown rice
- 4 cups cubed butternut squash
- 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme plus 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 6-8 fresh sage leaves
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup grated Fontina cheese
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt, and cook until the onions are very soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the cinnamon and brown rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes to toast the grains. Stir in the butternut squash cubes, then add the vegetable broth, thyme sprigs, and sage leaves, and bring to a boil. Immediately lower to a simmer, cover with a lid, and cook for 35 minutes until the rice is just tender, the butternut squash is soft, and most of the liquid has been absorbed. (You still want a little liquid in the pan to help create the creamy texture of the finished rice.)
Remove the thyme sprigs and sage leaves from the rice. Give the rice a good stir, breaking down some the butternut squash cubes. (Your rice should have a risotto-like consistency.)
Stir in the Parmesan and Fontina cheeses, then stir in the thyme leaves. Taste and season with salt as needed. Serve warm.
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