Risotto With Butternut Squash Croutons

Inspiration in the kitchen comes to us in a variety of ways, and this risotto dish definitely proves that fact to be true!  The challenge for the creation of this delicious dish was presented to us by our dear friend Fran from southern California when she wrote asking if we had any new ideas for the seasonal acorn and butternut squash so abundant and prevalent in our markets right now.  She was looking for something fresh and different  that would transcend  the traditional seasoned cream soups as well as those roastings that are all too often brown sugared and maple syruped to the point of boredom.  A wonderful challenge we thought, one we were more than willing to accept!

As it so happened, there was an immense butternut squash that had taken up residence in a basket sitting on our kitchen work island… a start!  The next step was to rummage throught the pantry to see what might be tucked away in its recesses.  Would there be something there to ignite the spark of inspiration?  Aha… arborio rice!  The creative juices were beginning to flow!  The next step was to dash to the market, hoping inspiration would not abandon me as I walked up and down the various aisles.  As I passed by the display case abundantly laden with fresh herbs I was drawn to the sage and selected a large fresh, fragrant and unblemished bunch.  What else, I thought.  At that moment my cell phone rang… it was Dayton.  He too had been deep in contemplation and when he inadvertently looked up at the pot rack and noticed his mom’s enameled cast iron risotto pan he immediately thought asparagus!  It’s coming together, I thought excitedly.  The next stop was the deli where I purchased 4 oz of prosciutto.  I knew we now had the primary ingredients and the challenge would be in putting them together in a unique and different way.

Back home in the kitchen we set to work.  I preheated the oven and baked half of that huge butternut squash.  While it was in the oven aromatically perfuming the kitchen I looked at the remaining half and thought, Would it be possible to make butternut croutons with some of this squash to garnish the dish, along with crisped prosciutto?  And so, the concept of butternut croutons was conceived.  The daunting task before us was the execution.  The neck end was sliced from the remaining half and peeled.  Several 1/2-inch slices were then cut and each slice was cut into 1/2-inch cubes.  What do we do now?  We tossed ideas back and forth as we addressed our concerns.  If we simply brown them in oil will they be crisp and golden on the outside but raw on the inside?  Should they be par-boiled first?  If so, how long… we didn’t want them to turn into mush.  Should they be floured before touching the hot oil?  We moved undauntedly forward, are extremely pleased with the results… and think you will be too!

Butternut Risotto with Crisped Prosciutto & Butternut Croutons

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut your butternut squash in half, removing the seeds.  Generously brush the cut side of one half with extra virgin olive oil.  Roast it cut side down on a sheet pan for 1 hour. If your squash is small and you choose to roast both halves be certain to slice off the neck portion of one half to have available for making the croutons.  Remove squash from the oven when done and allow to cool enough to handleScoop the roasted pulp into a food processor and process until smooth and creamy.  Place in a bowl and set aside.

While the squash is cooling prep the garnish:

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil.  While the water is heating peel the reserved squash neck with a paring knife or sharp vegetable peeler.  Slice into 1/2-inch slices.  This dish serves 2 -3 people generously so cut as many slices from the squash according to the number of croutons you will need for an adequate garnish.  We used 4 slices… and gobbled up the remaining croutons during dinner!  Cut each slice into 1/2-inch cubes for a total of 6 – 7 oz, or 1 1/2 cups of butternut cubes.

Prepare an ice water bath in a medium sized bowl and have readily available.  Plunge the cubes into the boiling water and par-boil for three minutes only!  Using a digital timer is of incredible help here.  Immediately drain off the water by pouring the pan contents through a strainer in the sink, then drop the drained squash cubes into the ice bath to stop the cooking.  Remove from the ice bath when cooled and return to the strainer.  While the squash is draining continue the garnish prep:

  • 1 bunch sage, leaves removed and reserved
  • 4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, coarsely chopped (this is quick and easy if you bunch the slices together and do your chop with a chef’s knife)

Place a skillet over moderate heat and add:

  • 1/4 C (about two turns) extra virgin olive oil

When the oil begins to shimmer add the chopped prosciutto, turning frequently, until it just begins to crisp, 2 – 2 1/2 minutes.  Do not overcook!  Remove the prosciutto to a paper towel to drain.  Add the reserved sage leaves to the pan and fry until beginning to brown at the edges and crisp, approximately 1 – 1 1/2 minutes.  Again, watch closely in order to not overcook them!  The objective here is to retain a deep green color, hence the flavor of the leaves.  Gently remove from skillet amd drain on a paper towel.

Gently roll the drained cubes in flour, coating all sides well.  Remove excess flour and place croutons in the same skillet used for the prosciutto and the sage leaves, adding an additional turn of extra virgin olive oil to the pan prior to adding the cubes, if necessary.  Gently turn the squash until beginning to turn golden, approximately 5 minutes.  Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel fitted into a dish to slide into a warm oven to keep the croutons heated until service.

Prepare the risotto:

In a medium saucepan heat to a simmer, having available for immediate use:

  • 4 C chicken stock

When the stock is heated, continue with:

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 C arborio rice

Place your risotto pan over moderate heat.  Add the butter and melt.  When the butter has melted add the minced shallot and cook until shallots are softened, 3 – 4 minutes.  Add the arborio to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice grains are opaque, 2 – 3 minutes.

Add:

  • 1/2 C dry white wine
  • 3/4 C of the heated and reserved stock

Gently cook, stirring as needed, until nearly all of the liquid has been absorbed, approximately 3 – 4 minutes.  Add:

  • 3/4 C of the heated and reserved stock

Again, while gently stirring, cook until all of the liquid has been nearly absorbed, an additional 3 – 4 minutes.  Add:

  • 3/4 C of the heated and reserved stock
  • tips from one medium sized bunch of asparagus (about 4 oz), reserving the remainder of the spears for use in another dish, possibly a soup or a souffle

Stir and continue to simmer as above for an additional 3 – 4 minutes.  When liquid is nearly absorbed add and stir well to incorporate:

  • 1/2 C butternut puree
  • 3/4 C of the heated and reserved stock

Reduce once again while stirring and begin testing the consistency of the rice with your teeth.  The grains should be al dente.  Add:

  • 1/3 C of the heated and reserved stock
  • 1/4 C heavy cream
  • 2 T Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated

Stir to incorporate.  At this point the rice should be cooked through but not mushy, still having a bit of a bite.

Ladle into warmed pasta bowls.  Remove warm croutons from the oven and roll in freshly grated Parmigiano to coat.

Sprinkle each bowl with freshly grated Parmigiano and garnish with the crispy prosciutto, butternut croutons and fried sage leaves… Bon Appetit!

 

Copyright 2009 Via Aurea Designs Inc., All Rights Reserved

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Categories: Rice, Vegetable Main Dishes

Author:Steve Meyer & Dayton Azevedo

Food and fine cooking have been our passion for many years, fueled by the year-around abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry and meats, as well as aromatic spices and herbs readily available to us here in the San Francisco Bay Area, making adventuresome, creative and delicious 5-star cooking a reality in our kitchen. Our aim is to make it yours as well by utilizing our step by step instructions and serial photographs. Bon Appetit from our kitchen to yours...!

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One Comment on “Risotto With Butternut Squash Croutons”

  1. Kris Klingbeil
    November 13, 2009 at 3:00 PM #

    I made this dish the other night for dinner and Gene and I loved it. The squash croutons were great. I did change the method though by cutting the squash up and pan roasting it in the oven at a high temp for a short time, then took out the ones I wanted for the croutons and roasted the rest for later use. We just love the flavor of pan roasted veggies. There is a restaurant we love to go to that serves a butternut squash risotto so I am thinking I will use the left over squash in another pasta dish.

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