Fall was late for us this year. I suppose it always is in Texas, but for me and Shorty, it feels like it’s finally time to settle down, curl up, and be calm, or at least, make a stronger effort to do all of those things.
Even though it was EIGHTY-EIGHT degrees here yesterday, the leaves are finally out, about a month and a half behind the rest of the continent, and it’s starting to feel like it might be okay to have a hot beverage soon.
With the passing fall season and the coming of the holidays, lots of people have been posting these daily Facebook statuses about what they’re thankful for, kind of like a “thirty days of Thanksgiving” thing. I saw a funny meme that said, “November, the month when people who complain the rest of the eleven months act thankful.” Or something like that. This year, being thankful is coming pretty naturally for us, though. We don’t need to be beholden to a daily status update to remember all of the things we should be thankful for. Nothing like a wedding, a.k.a., the biggest get together of your life, to remind you not to take all the people around you for granted.
We shared this risotto with Gary, the bloke who married us. You might remember him from my very first post (!). I talked about how he is a wood worker and artiste, and cook, etc. Anyway, last week he was back to work on a shed in our backyard, but since he’s an overachiever, it’s more like a cottage. He put the finishing touches on, and to celebrate, we let him back in the house. ^_^
Gary has really high standards–that’s part of his artistic charm–so I take it as a sign of success that he ate his whole bowl of risotto.
But really, this risotto is delicious. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that risotto is probably my all time favorite dish, and this one is now at the top of the list. That’s before Emeril’s three-cheese risotto, and even before Ina’s spring green risotto, the first and, until this recipe, best risotto I had ever made. And I think I can make a mean risotto.
Butternut Squash Risotto with Bacon and Vodka
Serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side dish
4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup arborio rice
4 strips thick-cut bacon
½ cup vodka
½ cup white onion, diced small
1 clove garlic
1 butternut squash
⅓ cup parsley, chopped fine
Salt & Ground pepper
¾ cup freshly grated parmesan
Olive oil for garnish
1. Set oven to 425 F. Peel and cube a butternut squash. Toss in olive oil and salt (about ¼ teaspoon coarse salt worked for me). Roast for 20 minutes, scraping up and turning partway through. Watch these carefully. I wait until they look like puffy marshmallows (on the verge of being burned). If they brown too quickly, turn the oven down to 375 to finish cooking through. Set aside to cool on pan.
2. When squash is cooled, separate and purée half of the squash in a food processor or blender. If it is too thick, add a few Tablespoons of chicken stock. Half of my squash made about ¾ cup purée. Set purée and remaining roasted squash aside.
3. Meanwhile, set a pot of chicken stock on a low simmer, covered. I repeat, covered.
4. In heavy-bottomed pot (I like a Dutch oven), lay strips of bacon. With bacon in the pan, heat to medium. Cook bacon until quite crispy, turning to fully cook. Lift bacon out of the pan and drain over paper towels.
5. Pour off about half the bacon grease. Bring pan back to medium heat. Add onions to bacon grease and sweat until translucent (3-4 minutes). Add garlic, and cook for another minute. Add rice and “toast” until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Turn heat up to medium-high. Add vodka and deglaze. Allow vodka to cook off almost completely.
6. By this point, your chicken stock should be at a very low simmer. Use a ladle to scoop stock into the very hot risotto pot. I use about two ladles of stock at a time. Stir risotto almost constantly. This releases the starches in a very important way. You don’t want it just boiling like regular rice. When stock cooks off and rice is beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan, add two more ladles of stock. Repeat this process until the rice is almost al dente, about 20-25 minutes.
7. When you consider the rice almost edible, it’s time to start adding the remaining ingredients. In the last minutes, risotto starts to cook way faster. You’ll notice that it seems to suck up the stock you’re adding much more quickly. When this is starting, and the rice is still chewy but nearly edible, Add the squash purée and stir until thoroughly incorporated. I also added another ½ cup chicken stock at this point, because the squash purée sucked all the moisture out of the rice, and you don’t wait it to be too thick.
8. Meanwhile, prepare the garnish: Chop the parsley, shred the cheese, and chop up the bacon.
9. Just before serving, mix remaining roasted squash into risotto, along with ½ cup parmesan (optional), and about ¼ cup of the parsley. Taste for seasoning, but remember that the bacon and parmesan will add saltiness. Serve immediately!
10. To serve, scoop risotto into bowls, then top each with crumbled bacon and remaining parsley and parmesan, along with fresh ground pepper and a drizzle of olive oil (optional).