When I first started making risotto, Arborio rice wasn’t available in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Because Arborio, a short-grain Italian rice, makes superior risotto, I imported it in my luggage or by mail-order. In those years, risotto was special occasion fare.
More recently, local stores stocked Arborio rice, but charged a premium for it. Although it became a pantry staple, ever cost-conscious, I still limited how often I made this toothsome treat.
Last month, our local Costco began selling imported Arborio rice in 3 kilo (6.6 pound) boxes for a very reasonable price. Now I guiltlessly make risotto whenever I want.
The firm, yet creamy, texture of perfectly cooked risotto is the perfect foil for vegetables of all kinds. Combined with beets or squash, risotto is warming winter fare. In spring, I like it with peas or artichokes. In summer, I look forward to lighter risottos flavored with basil or lemons.
Yesterday, I needed to use a butternut squash that had been sitting on the counter for way too long. I also had a handful of leftover sea scallops. It was definitely time to make an old favorite: Butternut Squash Risotto with Pan-Fried Scallops.
Black-pepper pancetta from Salumi and salt-cured capers, booty from a recent trip to Seattle, rounded out my list of risotto ingredients. The result was an attractive, full-flavored dish that we enjoyed for a mid-week meal and that would be perfect for serving to company.
Serves 4 - 6
Butternut Squash and Pancetta Risotto makes a filling meal served on its own with a light salad. It pairs well with seafood; see recipe below for Pan-Fried Scallops and Capers, a lovely partner for the risotto. To make vegetarian Butternut Squash Risotto, leave out the pancetta, sauté the onions in olive oil, and use vegetable stock. To make the vegetarian version extra special, stir in a little truffle oil just before serving.
1 1/4 pound butternut squash (1 pound cleaned; 3 cups cut in 3/4” dice)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup diced pancetta, 1/4" dice
1 cup diced onion, 1/4” dice
Salt (if the pancetta is very salty, omit the salt)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme, sage, or rosemary
4 – 5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Roasting the Squash: Remove the squash skin with a knife or vegetable peeler, cut in half, remove the seeds, and cut into 3/4” dice. Put the diced squash on a rimmed baking sheet and toss it with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and 2 tbsp. olive oil. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the squash is browned on at least one side. Remove from the oven and place in a strainer to drain off excess oil. (The recipe may be made ahead to this point.)
Making the Risotto: In a sauté pan large enough to hold the finished risotto, sauté the pancetta until the fat renders and the pancetta begins to brown. Stir in the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until the onions soften and begin to turn golden. Stir in the rice so it is completely coated with oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the wine; bring to a medium boil and cook, stirring, until the wine is almost absorbed. Stir in the roasted squash.
Add 1/2 cup of stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the stock is almost absorbed. Keep adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring until each addition of stock is almost absorbed. When the rice is half done, stir in the thyme. (The recipe can be made ahead to this point, and finished right before serving. If you are going to make it ahead, after you take the rice off the burner, stir it until it cools down.)
Continue adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring until the rice is tender, but still firm in the center (this takes 18 – 22 minutes). There may be stock left over. Stir in 1/2 cup of grated parmesan. Add stock until the risotto is the consistency you desire; it should be moist and creamy, not dry. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed.
Serve immediately with the remaining grated parmesan on the side for sprinkling on top.
Pan Fried Scallops and Capers with Butternut Squash Risotto (Χτένια και Κάπαρης με Κολοκύθα Ριζότο)
Don’t start cooking the scallops until the risotto is done.
1 recipe Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto (see above)
2 Tbsp. capers (preferably preserved in salt)
12 large scallops (about 1 pound)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
If using salt-preserved capers, rinse off the salt and let them soak in cold water for 10 – 15 minutes, and then rinse them again. If using brined capers, rinse off the brine. Dry the capers.
Wash the scallops, removing any tough muscle clinging to the scallops' sides. Dry and season them on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat the olive oil over high heat in a frying pan large enough to hold all the scallops. When the oil is very hot, add the seasoned scallops, and cook for 2 – 3 minutes, depending on the scallops’ size. Turn the scallops over and cook for 2 – 3 minutes more. Except for turning them over the one time, do not move the scallops or fidget with them while they cook. The scallops will brown better if they aren’t repeatedly turned.
While the scallops are cooking, warm up 6 plates (this is easiest to do in a microwave; put the dry plates in the microwave for 1 minute on high). Place equal amounts of risotto on each of the warmed plates.
When the scallops are done, turn off the heat and top each serving of risotto with two scallops. Stir the lemon juice and capers into the still-warm pan, scraping up any browned bits on the pan’s bottom.
Top each scallop with a drizzle of pan juices and a sprinkling of capers. Serve immediately.