Butternut Squash & Saffron Risotto

October 15, 2014
1 Ratings
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

This delicate, golden-hued risotto made with creamy butternut squash is autumn on a plate. It's inspired by a dish I've had many times at a farm in San Gimignano, Tuscany, that produces its own saffron—painstakingly hand-picked every fall.

You could technically cook the squash any way you prefer with this. Roasted is probably my other preferred option, but you can boil it too. I personally like cooking it in the pan that you cook the rest of the risotto in, as it means less washing up! One thing is for sure, however, do use fresh squash for this, not canned!

A note on cooking risotto: The rice should be creamy but al dente (with a bit of a bite), and it should contain enough liquid that the risotto is "al onda", which means "like a wave"—when you wobble the dish or pan it should be loose and flatten out easily, not sit upright on the plate. —Emiko

What You'll Need
  • 1/2 pound peeled and diced butternut squash
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 pints vegetable stock
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 11 ounces arborio, carnaroli, or Vialone Nano rice
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary or thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • Finely grated Parmesan cheese to serve
  1. In a pan, gently heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the squash, stirring occasionally until very soft and falling apart, about 20 minutes. The squash releases liquid as it cooks, but you can add 1/2 cup of water as needed. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Prepare the stock by heating it with the wine gently in a saucepan. Reserve a cup of the hot liquid and add the saffron threads to this to infuse.
  3. Heat the rest of the olive oil in a separate heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until transparent and soft. Add the rice and stir until coated with the oil in the pan and translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Add a third of the stock and cook, stirring slowly until the rice absorbs almost all of the stock. Add another third of stock, stirring while the rice absorbs the liquid. With the last addition of stock, add the cup of saffron infused liquid. All together, the cooking time should take about 16 to 17 minutes.
  5. In the final two minutes of cooking time, add the squash and fresh thyme; off the heat, add the cold butter, tossing or stirring the risotto to combine until creamy. Ladle the risotto into serving bowls or plates, tapping the bottom of the plates with the palm of your hand to create a thin, level layer or risotto rather than a mound, and serve with a scattering of Parmesan cheese -- not too much to overpower the delicate saffron.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Tamara Hudes Agarwal
    Tamara Hudes Agarwal
  • Sarah E.
    Sarah E.
  • CarlaCooks
  • jlriddell
  • lapadia

20 Reviews

S November 9, 2018
Thank you for this tasteful recipe!
It was yummy.

This is the first time I have made risotto, but I'm not sure if I followed step two correctly. Can you explain the second part of that step?
Mary October 28, 2018
I roasted the butternut squash and set aside as a time saver. All the guests went back for seconds it was so good.
freshbread January 29, 2017
This was delicious! I took Emiko's encouragement to roast the squash if desired; this made for an easy, largely hands-off squash cooking process. The dish came together as directed and served four adults, each of whom had seconds, with a little remaining.

Four notes, not as suggested adjustments but as encouragement for trying what's apparently a flexible recipe: I forgot to stir-in the cold butter at the end, yet everyone found it sufficiently rich; due to garlic and onion allergies, I used water instead of stock and nixed the onion, adding salt to taste, and still built-up a flavorful broth; I used kabocha squash instead of butternut, because I had kabocha on-hand; and I over-reduced the risotto, making it technically too thick, but it was still super tasty. Give it a try!
Tamara H. January 17, 2016
I am making this right now, and it looks amazing so far! I actually love that people from outside the US are posting recipes, it adds so much more interest and diversity of ideas to the site. Let's all be patient and understanding of differences in terms like squash and pumpkin!
Sarah E. February 14, 2015
Just made this tonight - absolutely delicious risotto, perfect recipe. Thank you!
salena December 11, 2014
Just wanted to thank you for this wonderful recipe. I used chicken stock in lieu of the vegetable because that's what I had (and because I was serving it with a roast chicken) and not only was it visually beautiful but it was delicious. The squash flavor was delicate, not overly sweet at all. Excellent risotto. A stunning dish.
CarlaCooks November 11, 2014
I love your description of risotto as a wave. I've never thought if as such before and I think the visual aid will be of great use in knowing when my risotto has reached the desired consistency. Thanks for a lovely read and recipe!
Emiko November 11, 2014
That's great, thank you for that feedback! I always find a description of how the dish is meant to look is so much more helpful than even what you can see in the photo!
jlriddell October 29, 2014
The wine is left out of the directions. I assume it goes in after step #3.
Emiko October 30, 2014
Yes it is in there - at step 2! It's added together with the stock: "Prepare the stock by heating it with the wine gently in a saucepan.". Thereafter I refer to "stock" but it's obviously stock + wine at that point! Hope that's all clear :)
lapadia October 29, 2014
After reading this recipe I too was a bit confused. I’ve researched after reading Emiko’s reply, and the following is what I learned:

It isn’t common knowledge that people around the world do not distinguish between squashes and pumpkins the same. For instance, in North America pumpkins are the round, orange ones, the rest are "squashes of some sort."

Via Emiko’s reply, we’ve learned that in Australia butternut squash is referred to as pumpkin, thank you. And via Cook In / Dine Out’s reply we’ve learned about the name “Butternut Pumpkin,” thank you. Hmmm, a thought to ponder = Being unaware of these facts could lead to misunderstandings or confusion.

Anyway, RE: Italy and squash vs. pumpkins: After further research I read that the “Zucca Barucca,” a large squash with orange meat that looks like a green flattened pumpkin but tastes as rich and sweet as butternut squash is common to find in the fall markets of the Veneto region of Italy. So, I guess I’m safe in assuming the name “Butternut Pumpkin” probably comes from this. Zucca = the Italian word for squashes, btw.

Finally, to Emiko - I had a bountiful butternut squash harvest this year and hope to try a posted recipe, or two.
Emiko October 29, 2014
Zucca in Italian means pumpkin - well actually, like in Australia they do not distinguish between pumpkin and squash! I'm guessing this is because pumpkin is native to North America so there are more specific words for the different types :) And, just to add to the confusion, in Australia squash is a completely different vegetable - a small, bright yellow zucchini-related vegetable!
lapadia October 29, 2014
Hi! Yes, I'd say that could be a good guess, thanks. Adding to the confusion?....no problem this time around, it's nice to learn something new, everyday! :)
boulangere October 28, 2014
I'm a bit confused. The ingredients call for butternut squash, but the method says pumpkin. Is plain stock the same as vegetable stock?
Cook I. October 28, 2014
I was wondering about that too, and I think I found the answer. In Australia and New Zealand, butternut squash is referred to as "butternut pumpkin," and the author of this recipe is from Australia.
boulangere October 28, 2014
Interesting. But we cook here in the U.S.
Emiko October 28, 2014
Yes, sorry, old habits are hard to break! In Australia (and also Italy, where this recipe is originally from), butternut squash is referred to as pumpkin. In fact, you could use any pumpkin for this recipe in place of the butternut. I know Food52 has a largely US audience so I always try my best to keep language to US English but it's also got a good international following ;)
Emiko October 28, 2014
Oh and on the stock, I'm not quite sure what "plain stock" is but vegetable stock can be substituted with water if you don't mind a more delicate risotto or chicken stock (although this is not traditional in Italy).
CarlaCooks November 11, 2014
We cook here in Denmark too ;)
AntoniaJames October 16, 2014
Another beauty here. I was already planning to serve a butternut squash risotto during the December holidays with a Tuscan pork roast. This is perfect! Can't wait to try it. ;o)