Butternut Squash Risotto with Sausage, Pancetta and Leeks
This risotto is another of the seasonal inspirations that come with the change in the weather. If you're a close reader of Stephencooks you will remember that a couple of days ago I rediscovered winter squash, as I do every September, and I roasted a butternut squash and then used only half of it (for Roasted Butternut Squash and Sage Carbonara). This type of situation dictates a lot of what happens in my kitchen, because that half squash in the refrigerator starts crying out, asking what I'm going to do with it.
The variations of risotto are endless, but the only things that vary from the basic recipe are what you choose to add, how you prepare the additions, and when you add them. Of course, the broth varies too, according to the additions and what you are serving with the risotto, but the basic idea is always: sauté some chopped onion in butter and olive oil, add the rice to the pot and sauté until it turns milky, then, stirring, keep adding hot broth, a cup at a time, over a period of 15 to 20 minutes until the rice is cooked al dente (not mushy but not chalky inside).
In this version, since the squash was already cooked, it was added at the end. The sausage and pancetta were cooked and added at the beginning to deepen their contribution to the flavor, and leeks were substituted for the onions.
Roasted Butternut Risotto with Sausage, Pancetta and Leeks
Serves 4 - 6, depending on other components of the meal
See the Risotto Master Recipe.
2 C arborio rice
3 slices pancetta, cut in 1" sticks
1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage, casing removed, cut up
1 C leeks, white and pale green parts only, washed and chopped
1 T butter
1/2 C hearty red wine
1 - 1/2 lb butternut squash
5 - 6 C low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 C Parmeggiano Reggiano, shredded
5 T flatleaf parsley, minced
1/2 tsp fennel seed, crushed
hot sauce to taste
Wash the squash and prick it all over. Rub it with olive oil and roast in a 400º oven about an hour, 'til a fork penetrates easily to the center. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Remove skin, scoop out seeds and pulp and cut up in 3/4" chunks (which should be falling apart as you work). [Note: this can be done a day or two ahead. Refrigerate squash until needed.]
Place the broth in a saucepan and hold at a simmer.
Sauté the pancetta and sausage over medium heat until fairly well browned and crisp at the edges. Add the wine and, over high heat, stirring constantly, reduce to a syrup. Remove and reserve 2 tablespoons of the cooked meats. Add the leeks, reduce heat to medium, and sauté gently about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are translucent. Add the rice, the fennel and 4 tablespoons of parsley and sauté a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the rice turns milky white.
Add two cups of the broth and, stirring constantly, cook the mixture for about 15 to 20 minutes at an active simmer, adding broth so as to keep it fairly soupy while it cooks. After 15 minutes, start tasting the rice for doneness. As the rice approches completion, allow the mixture to get a little drier.
When the rice is cooked, add the squash (reserving a couple of spoonsful for garnish), the cheese and the butter. Correct seasoning. Mix well and serve in a warmed bowl or individual serving dishes. Garnish with the reserved parsley, squash and cooked pancetta and sausage.
I usually serve this all by itself, after an antipasto, as a primi piatti, followed by a meat or fish course, which is often accompanied by a side vegetable. Not only is this the traditional Italian serving method for risotto (as a course all to itself, rather than as a side) but it's also easier on the cook, since it allows you to concentrate on the risotto, rather than trying to sear fish or finish a roast with your left hand while you stir the rice with your right. Also, it allows the cook to eat with the guests, always a plus, and the longer, slower pace of this style of serving is better suited to hanging out with friends at the end of a day.