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Vanilla – Saffron Scented Butternut Squash Risotto

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The delicious autumn hard shelled squashes are so welcoming to find at the farmers’ market or in the produce section, especially as nights grow dark earlier and the weather turns chilly or cold. They all but beg us to take them home to make something warm, filling and comforting! What I love about this recipe is that you get an unusually silky, risotto as the butternut squash is used two ways. Half of the roasted butternut squash is pureed, which adds to the creaminess of this dish.

 Both vanilla and saffron are warming flavors, and both have the additional benefit of offering healthy percs. Vanilla is naturally soothing and calming and saffron is healing for the liver. If you don’t like the flavor of saffron, it’s fine to eliminate it, but if you are on the fence, I suggest including it as it definitely adds some depth to the flavor of the risotto. In fact, saffron threads are often used to make a warming, healing tea, especially helpful after a rich meal.

While it may be tempting to leave out the pine nuts or the crispy sage leaves, they add additional deep flavors and the sage’s crispness is pleasing.

You can make risotto ahead and reheat it in the oven. You may choose to add a little extra stock when you do this to make sure that it retains the creaminess. Don’t add the sage leaves and pine nuts until just before serving. Also, after crisping the sage leaves, if there is any leftover butter, mix it into the risotto.

This risotto makes a good side dish for a roasted chicken or with lamb, and quite special as a Thanksgiving side dish. If you are vegan, it is simple to adapt. Use vegetable stock, more olive oil or substitute coconut oil or vegan margarine for the butter. Whole Foods carries an excellent vegan “Parmesan cheese.” Another good side dish with this risotto is sauteed wild mushrooms and flash sauteed spinach. Writing about this dish is making me hungry all over again!

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Vanilla-Scented Butternut Squash Risotto
A silky, rich and warming risotto
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Ingredients
  1. 1 medium butternut squash, diced into 3/8" cubes*
  2. 1 bunch scallions, white and light green part, sliced thin
  3. 4 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  5. 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  6. 2 cups arborio rice
  7. 1 cup dry white wine (substitute extra stalk if preferred)
  8. 4-5 cups chicken broth
  9. 1/2 teaspoon of saffron, or about 8 threads
  10. 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  11. Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  12. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  13. 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  14. 1 bunch sage leaves, crisped in 2 tablespoons of butter
Instructions
  1. Toast the pine nuts: Using a dry skillet, heat over medium heat. Add the pine nuts. Tossing frequently, allow the pine nuts to roast until they begin to turn a golden brown.
  2. Crispy sage leaves: Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small sauté pan; add whole sage leaves. Allow the leaves to become crisp by frying for about 2 minutes on each side, delicately turning the leaves with tongs once during the process. Remove the crispy sage from the butter and set aside until time to garnish the finished risotto. Pour any leftover butter into the finished risotto.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Place the diced butternut squash in a single layer on a large roasting pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle the squash with salt and pepper and roast for about 20-25 minutes or until tender to a knife tip. Stir and toss the squash halfway through the roasting process. Remove half of the squash and puree. Reserve the other half as cubes to be added to the finished risotto.
  4. In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté the onions and garlic in a blend of 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent. Add the rice and stir until coated. Add the wine and continue to stir until it is absorbed.
  5. In a separate soup pot, bring the broth to a simmer and separate one cup of broth into a separate bowl. Add the saffron to the reserved broth to infuse. Set aside.
  6. Once the wine is absorbed into the rice, slowly add 1-2 ladles of broth to the pot of rice, starting with the saffron-infused broth; bring to a low simmer. Keep simmering and slowly add ladles of broth (one ladle at a time). Stir continuously, until the broth becomes absorbed.
  7. Add the salt while stirring and adding the broth. Taste test the risotto often to ensure adequate salt according to your taste. When the risotto is al dente, add 1 more ladle of the stock, stir, and turn the heat to low.
  8. Add the roasted, pureed squash and stir. Then, add the cubes of roasted squash. Add vanilla extract. For a silky finish, stir in 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese.
  9. Serve hot. Garnish with toasted pine nuts and crispy sage. If you wish, have more Parmesan cheese available at the table.
Notes
  1. *Should have 3-1/2 - 4-1/2 cups of cubed butternut squash
  2. Serves 6
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Patricia Rain
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Patricia Rain

is an author, educator, culinary historian, and owner of The Vanilla Company (www.vanillaqueen.com), a socially conscious, product-driven information and education site dedicated to the promotion of pure, natural vanilla, and the support of vanilla farmers worldwide. She also does culinary presentations for food professionals, cooking schools, trade shows, food fairs, and private groups, and is a regular radio and TV guest.
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