Butternut Squash Risotto with Pancetta and Chèvre

This darkest time of the year combined with the recent cold snap is sending me into full-throttle hibernation mode. I know I’m not alone, here.

If you’re feeling the same, you’ll enjoy this savory excuse to turn on the oven and stand over a hot stove slowly stirring this cozy dish. It’s pretty much guaranteed to alleviate your December Doldrums.

I learned to make risotto from The Silver Palate cookbook half of my lifetime ago, and it is one of the few dishes I feel comfortable whipping up sans recipe. (We baker-types like our formulas.) Since I consider it to be one of my few savory “specialties,” I’m
appalled to realize that there is a mere single risotto recipe on this

To rectify this negligence (and for an excuse to combine three of my favorite foods – winter squash, goat cheese and arugula – onto one plate) I made this dish. It’s inspired by Aran Goyaga of Canelle e Vanille, and uses Cook’s Illustrated‘s Butternut Risotto as a guideline. The recipe begins with bright, roasted butternut squash, and turns out a sunny-looking dish strewn with rosy bits of crisped pancetta and lacy leaves of arugula. It makes a superbly comforting one-dish meal, and manages to incorporate each of the five tastes: sweet (roasted winter squash and arborio rice), salty (parmesan cheese), spicy (chile de arbol and arugula), tart (goat cheese) and umami (pancetta and chicken stock). I could pretty much live off of this stuff.

I detest peeling raw winter squash, so I adapted Cook’s recipe to use roasted squash instead, which I find much easier to deal with. Just slice the squash lengthwise, place it cut-side-down on an oiled baking sheet, and pop it in the oven for about 45 minutes. When the squash has cooled, it’s super easy to scrape out the strings and seeds, and to separate the flesh from the skin.

I had a giant roasted chicken leg left over from a Chanukah celebration, so I used it to make a quick chicken stock, along with a few sprigs of parsley and thyme, and the seeds and strings from the roasted squash. The risotto gets more flavor from white wine, chile de arbol, garlic and thyme leaves, and an extra boost at the finish when creamy parmesan, goat cheese, and chopped sage are folded in. Peppery arugula adds its crisp freshness, and juicy chunks of pan-fried pancetta give you something to sink your teeth into.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to constantly babysit risotto; just give it a stir every once in a while as you get on with other things in the kitchen, like, say, pouring yourself a glass of white wine while you fry up some pancetta in olive oil. Unless you burn the stuff, it’s pretty hard to mess it up, and once you have all the ingredients prepped, it comes together relatively quickly. Could you serve this for Christmas dinner? Certainly. (Though you might want to leave off the pancetta for Chanukah…)

If you can’t find pancetta, bacon, prosciutto or Serrano ham will make a fine substitute. For a vegetarian version, see the variation for vegetable stock in the headnote below, and serve the risotto studded with sauteed mushrooms (shiitake or porcini would be my first choices).

Either way, cozy up to this bowl of comfort food with another glass of white wine. Happy Winter Solstice.

Rice and everything nice:

Saffron Risotto with Spring Vegetable Ragout
Spring Vegetable Fried Rice
Coconut Cardamom Arroz Con Leche

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Pancetta, Arugula and Chèvre

For the most efficient risotto-making experience, roast your squash first, then make the stock, then cook the risotto. When the risotto is halfway done, fry up the pancetta. Have the components ready to go so you can serve the risotto as soon as it reaches the proper consistency.

If you prefer to start with ready-made stock, simmer it in a saucepan with the squash strings and seeds for 10 minutes, then strain the stock and return it to the pan to keep warm as you cook the risotto. Chicken stock adds a more savory flavor, whereas vegetable stock will result in a sweeter risotto; though you can certainly use it to make a vegetarian version. (For a quick vegetable stock, use a large carrot, a small potato, and a celery stalk, all chopped into a few big pieces, in place of the chicken.) Sauteed shiitake or porcini mushroom chunks would make a fine substitute for the pancetta.

Makes 6-8 main-course servings

Roasted butternut squash:
1 medium butternut squash, about 2 pounds
1 tablespoon sunflower or light olive oil

Quick chicken stock (makes about 6 cups):
8 cups water
1 or 2 roasted chicken legs
1 small onion, sliced
a few sprigs each parsley and thyme
1 bay leaf
butternut squash strings and seeds from above

Risotto and garnishes:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus another tablespoon for the pancetta
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
1 chile de arbol, minced (or 1/4-1/2 teaspoon chile flakes)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine (I like something bright and citrusy, such as sauvignon blanc)
about 3 cups roasted squash flesh, from above
3/4 teaspoon salt
4-6 cups chicken stock (from above)
2 ounces (1 cup) grated parmesan
8 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled, half reserved for topping
2 tablespoons finely chopped sage leaves
freshly cracked black pepper
8 ounces pancetta, in 3/4″ dice
1-2 cups arugula leaves, washed and dry

Roast the squash:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Drizzle a rimmed baking sheet with the oil. Slice the squash lengthwise, leaving the seeds and strings for now, and place it cut-side-down on the baking sheet. Roast it in the oven for about 45 minutes, until golden, tender and collapsing. Let the squash cool until you can handle it. Scoop out the strings and seeds, reserving them for the stock, then scoop the flesh away from the skin, discarding the skin and reserving the flesh. You should have about 3 cups of squash flesh. Add any pan juices to the stock, as well.

Make the stock:

Combine all the stock ingredients in a large saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, then strain. You should have about 6 cups of stock. Return the stock to the pan and have it barely simmering as you…

Make the risotto:

Melt the butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil together in a wide soup pot or dutch oven set over a medium flame. Add the onion, thyme, and chile, and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. The rice will be translucent on the outside, with an opaque pearl in the center of each grain.

Add the wine and reserved squash, and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add about a cup of stock, enough to come up to the level of the rice, and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the stock is absorbed, keeping the rice at a bare simmer. Continue adding the stock, stirring, letting it be absorbed, until the grains of rice are swollen and tender to your liking. Risotto should be firm enough to put on a plate, but with saucy goo surrounding each grain.

When the risotto is about halfway done, begin frying the pancetta. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta in a single layer and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and caramelized around the edges. Set aside until ready to serve.

When the rice is tender to your liking, stir in the parmesan, half of the goat cheese, and all of the sage. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the risotto looks dry, loosen it with a bit more stock; if it is too wet, let stand for a few minutes to absorb more liquid.

Risotto is best served immediately, when the rice and saucy base are distinct, so spoon it onto warm plates or shallow bowls without delay. Top each plate with pancetta bits, crumbles of goat cheese, and a handful of arugula leaves.

12 thoughts on “Butternut Squash Risotto with Pancetta and Chèvre”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *