This delicate, golden-hued risotto made with creamy butternut squash/pumpkin 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/pumpkin 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/pumpkin 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
(250 grams) peeled and diced butternut squash or pumpkin
Salt and pepper to taste
(1 liter) vegetable stock
(about 0.1 gr) of saffron threads
(250 ml) dry white wine
brown onion, chopped finely
(320 grams) arborio, carnaroli, or Vialone Nano rice
fresh rosemary or thyme, leaves picked and chopped
In a pan, gently heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the squash/pumpkin, stirring occasionally until very soft and falling apart, about 20 minutes. The squash/pumpkin releases liquid as it cooks, but you can add 1/2 cup of water as needed. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
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.
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.
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.
In the final two minutes of cooking time, add the squash/pumpkin and the fresh thyme; then, 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.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.