Herb-y Squash Risotto

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For years, one of my favorite fall recipes has been Martha Stewart's spicy squash pasta.  But, as you do when you make something over and over, I've gradually modified it to make it more my own.

For one, I've learned that the squash sauce comes together much better if you treat it like mashed potatoes and add some milk.  While you could still mash it by hand, as Martha suggests, I think my food processor does a better, quicker job.

With the arrival of the Kid, I've also eschewed red pepper flake in most of our meals.  It's easier to add a few drops of sriracha to my individual portion at the end.  I get the heat I crave, and I don't end up burning the Kid's more spice-sensitive mouth.

Lastly, I've found that I enjoy the squash sauce--which is the heart of the recipe--just as much, if not more, when mixed in with a pot of risotto, rather than over pasta.  Both risotto and squash are cold season treats for us, so it just feels right to marry them together.

As with most recipes, this can be modified to fit what you have on hand.  For this--and every other risotto we make, honestly--I never get hung up on what kind of alcohol I deglaze the pan with.  Obviously, don't use cherry vodka or something crazy like that, but beer, white wine, whiskey, vodka....they're all good.  And they'll all add the little background depth of flavor that makes risotto so rich.

In that same vein, I love the smell of fresh rosemary, so I always make a point to buy a few sprigs when I make this.  It certainly isn't mandatory--play around with the spices to figure out what you like.

With all that being said, here is my modified recipe.  Please enjoy!

Herb-y Squash Risotto

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup beer (you can sub white wine or whiskey or even vodka, in a pinch)
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • About 2 cups pumpkin sauce (recipe follows)
  • About 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • About 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Ricotta (for serving)
  • A sprig a fresh rosemary, diced (for serving)
  • Sriracha sauce (optional, but pretty good!)

Directions

Pour the stock into a pot, and gently warm it on a back burner.  If you've made the pumpkin sauce ahead of time and it's cold, pop it into the microwave for a minute or so to warm it, as well.

Meanwhile, in a large sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the diced onion.  Cook the onion gently until it starts to go translucent, anywhere from about 3-5 minutes.  Add the Arborio rice, stirring constantly to keep it from burning.  Let the rice cook by itself for about a count of 100, then add the beer to do a mini-deglaze of the pan.

Once the beer is starting to absorb, add a ladleful of stock, continuing to stir.  When the stock is almost absorbed, add a scoop of the pumpkin sauce.  Continue alternating between stock and pumpkin sauce--stirring gently all the while--until the rice is cooked.  If you add all the stock and pumpkin, you'll have an extra pumpkin-y risotto, but feel free to adjust the ratio to your taste.

When the rice is cooked, turn off the heat.  Stir in the butter, Parmesan, salt and pepper.  Then, put a lid on the pot, and let it sit and meld for about 5 minutes before serving.

When you're ready to eat, ladle the risotto into bowls.  Top with a big dollop of ricotta, a sprinkle of chopped, fresh rosemary, and a few drops of sriracha, if you're so inclined.

Squash Sauce

Ingredients

  • One small squash (pie pumpkin, hubbard squash, acorn squash, or similar)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • About 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 Tablespoon dried sage
  • 1 Tablespoon dried thyme
  • a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Cut the squash into sections, then peel it with a vegetable peeler or paring knife.  Discard the skin, and cut the flesh into about 1 inch cubes.  Scatter the cubes onto a baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring once at about 15 minutes.  You'll know they're done when a fork pierces them easily and they're starting to get some color.

Let the squash cool just a little, then tumble it into the bowl of a food processor.  Start the food processor, and add the garlic.  Then drizzle in the milk.  Depending on the size of your squash, you may need more or less milk.  You're looking for the consistency of not-too-thick mashed potatoes.  

Lastly add the herbs and salt and pepper.  Allow the food processor to run long enough for everything to incorporate well, and you're all done.  

This will keep for a few days in the fridge, and for 3-4 months in the freezer.  In addition to risotto, it's also good mixed in with pasta, or any place else you need a savory pumpkin sauce.