For those of you who missed it, I’m moving to London, England this fall with my boyfriend, which is almost exciting as the new Royal Baby announcement, no? I’m kidding! I’ll be away flat hunting across the pond (how many British clichés can I use here, I wonder?) during Canadian Thanksgiving, which happens early October. I’ll also be gone, this time permanently, for American Thanksgiving, a holiday I’ve watched only through glamourous magazine spreads and movies.
But there’s so much amazing fall and winter cooking to be made and enjoyed in-between the milestone holidays, which I personally find more enjoyable. It’s more relaxed cooking, utilizing what we have on hand and the season’s best produce.
I eagerly picked up my first local squash, a creamy-fleshed variety similar to kabocha and red kuri (my absolute favourite), and wanted to share something special with you all.
Last year, I desperately needed a break from pumpkin and squash (same thing), the previous year writing a recipe compendium on it. Heirlooms, grocery store varieties – you name it, it’s in the Purely Pumpkin cookbook. Having settled into my second season with the book, I can look back and actually want to cook from it again. Writing a single subject cookbook is not for the faint of heart, but I think it will continue to show appeal for years to come. Time and space are wonderful things.
Today’s recipe is brand new though, and it’s a good one.
Risotto rolls off the tongue like luxury, tasting like it, too. The richness is unforgiving, but I’ve found that you can make it slightly less heavy thanks to the natural starches in its base of arborio rice, a variety I use for my family’s Danish risalamande recipe (almond rice pudding) around the holidays; you can find that recipe in my very first cookbook, Whole Bowls. Or why not try the Classic Vanilla Bean and Almond Rice Pudding I posted a couple years ago? The secret is out: I love arborio rice.
And we’re not done yet. Sage, frizzled until crisp in butter that’s naturally browning away, imbuing everything with a caramelized nuttiness, tops this off, snuffing out its overpoweringly heady nature. And pancetta (you could use bacon, or shiitake mushrooms for a vegetarian version) makes this really feel like a meal, even though it’s sensibly applied.
The oven-baked risotto method is borrowed from Donna Hay, which I’ve made with great success several times. It’s a true launching pad recipe, one that can be built on and tweaked as the seasonal produce changes.
This risotto could be a side dish, but I honestly want it, and did have it, as my entrée. It’s cozy, huggable comfort food that feels right this time of year – and I’m in need of all the comfort I can get with this big move. Adventure awaits, as does inspiration, for me in London, and for you, wherever you may be.
Oven-Baked Squash Risotto with Sage & Pancetta
If you’re looking for easy fall dinner ideas that will take you into winter, look no further than baked risotto. Impressive, feeds a crowd and simple to prepare. No standing at the stove stirring, just prepare and pop in the oven for 30 minutes. A beautiful dinner, complete with tender roasted squash, crispy sage and salty pancetta is ready in under an hour.
Serves 5 as a main, 8 as a side
1 (2 lb) red kuri or kabocha or buttercup squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
salt, to taste
2 Tbsp (30 g) salted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
50 g pancetta, cubed (omit for vegetarian)
20 fresh sage leaves
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1¼ cups (250 g) arborio rice (no substitutions)
1 cup white wine (without wine: use 4½ cups broth, plus 1 Tbsp additional lemon juice to finish)
3½ cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
½ tsp salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Add squash, oil and salt to a large rimmed baking sheet, toss to combine and roast until squash is very tender and beginning to brown, about 35 minutes. Reserve.
1. Increase oven heat to 400ºF. In a large ovenproof high-sided skillet or dutch oven, melt butter or oil over medium-low heat. Add pancetta and cook until pancetta is cooked and browned, about 5 minutes. Remove pancetta to a bowl using a slotted spoon. Reserve. Add sage leaves to hot butter or oil in a single layer and fry until crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove sage to a plate using a slotted spoon. Reserve.
2. In hot pan, fry onions and garlic until beginning to brown, about 4 minutes, then stir in rice, toasting on the heat for 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and add wine, if using, broth, salt and pepper. Stir well, cover with lid and transfer to oven. Bake for 30 minutes, adding squash back to oven in last 5 minutes of cooking time to warm through.
3. Turn off oven and pop in plates to warm (don’t skip this!). Uncover risotto and stir well. Add cheese and lemon juice, stir well again, and then fold in warmed roasted squash. Serve on warmed plates topped with pancetta and fried sage.
– Roasted Squash: 3 days
– Oven-Baked Risotto: 3 days, reheat on the stovetop or in oven, thinning with water or broth to loosen, as required
Oven-Baked Risotto method adapted from Donna Hay’s Basic Baked Risotto Recipe.