Total disclosure: I have never made risotto before, but I saw a recipe for Butternut Squash, Leek, and Basil Risotto from Bon Appetit magazine and had to make it.
Risotto is a curious dish. As you probably know, it is made with italian rice cooked in broth until it soaks up as much as it can until it becomes a delicious, creamy entree. To be honest, it’s a lot more work than just plain white rice or quinoa. It requires a lot of patience, stirring, tasting, adding more broth, and generally getting steamed up standing over the pot. The result is satisfying and surely worth it!
I learned a lot about risotto from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating (Thanks, Laura!) which contains an entire detailed section on Italian Rice. I learned that the reason the risotto method works is because this traditional Italian rice is comprised of two starches: amylopectin and amylose. The grains are plumper and more oval in shape with an almost transparent center compared to standard long grain rice. Amylopectin is what makes up the soft outer layer which dissolves in the cooking liquid to create that creamy mouthfeel that risotto is known form. Amylose starch retains its form and keeps each grain distinct in the dish. Science is cool!
Risotto making has so ingrained (pun definitely intended) itself into Italian culture that there is even an entire association dedicated to the protection and development of the varieties of italian rice and its tradition (Consorzio di Tutela e Valorizzazione delle Varietà Tipiche di Riso Italiano e delle Sue Tradizioni). Their noble mission ensures the quality and authenticity of the various rices available on the market so that the tradition of risotto making will be here to stay.
The Bon Appetit recipe for Butternut Squash, Leek, and Basil Risotto made enough for six entree sized portions, which would have made way too much for me. Below is the approximate recipe I made for a half batch, followed by a photo gallery.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 ¾ cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled butternut squash (about half a squash), from Warren Orchards
- 1 ½ cups 1/2-inch-wide slices leeks (white and pale green parts only), from Second Spring Farm
- 1 tablespoon herbes de provence
- 1 cup arborio rice
- ½ cup dry white wine, like the Arcturos Chardonnay from Black Star Farms
- 28oz or more of chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 cup chopped fresh basil, grown right in my kitchen
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus additional for serving)
Heat tablespoon of oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped squash and sauté until beginning to soften and brown around edges, about 5 minutes. Remove squash from bowl and place in a medium bowl.
Reduce heat to medium; add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, leeks, and herbes de provence to same pot and stir until tender but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add rice and stir 1 minute. Add ½ cup wine and 1/2 cup broth and simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes. Add remaining broth by 1/2 cupfuls, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Be sure to keep testing a few grains at a time throughout this process. When it’s definitely creamy, return squash to pot. Continue to cook until rice is just tender but still very creamy, stirring gently and often, about 10 minutes longer (about 25 minutes total cooking time). Remove from heat. Stir in chopped basil and 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to large bowl and serve with additional Parmesan cheese.