Baked Squash Risotto
Autumn in my Mother’s house meant squash risotto. She had a preference for the thin-skinned blue zucca (squash) whose vibrant orange flesh mirrored the colours from the first fires of the cool season. It was the smoky warmth from those fires that eased all our aching muscles on a Sunday night after a hard day spent foraging for mushrooms or helping to harvest olives for friends.
Risotto in Abruzzo is a little different from the better known ones from northern Italy. Like so much of southern Italian cooking it is without cream instead relying on a flood of sweet flavours from herbs and vegetables. If your parents had been lucky or were feeling extravagant it may mean your risotto’s top note being one of local Navelli saffron which is regarded as Italy’s best by its most celebrated chefs.
Long ago when my own children were young and we lived in the US, I’d substitute the squash in this baked risotto recipe for pumpkin flesh, pleased that instead of spending time stirring a risotto over a hot stove, I could slip it into the oven and go out with them trick and treating.
Although the more commercial Halloween has arrived in Italy, in Abruzzo there are many people who still prefer to keep local traditions and customs for the more important 1st and 2nd November, All Saints and Day of the Dead. Instead of concentrating on the wicked it is a time of reflection and remembrance of departed family and friends. All good Abruzzesi know that way to a spirit’s heart is through their stomach and on November 1st they cook the favourite dishes of their lost loved ones which are left out on ‘la tavola dei morte’ (table of the dead). As the spirits come back to check on their family they in turn can depart back to their world comforted by the aromas of what was once home and knowing they aren’t forgotten.
- 2 cups Butternut Squash (280 g)
- 2 cups uncooked Arborio Rice (400 g)
- 1 cup diced Onion (150 g)
- 2 cloves of chopped Garlic
- 2 cups Chicken Stock – (500 ml)
- 1 cup (240 ml) dry White Wine (250 ml)
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Sage
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh Thyme
- ¼ teaspoon Saffron
- Pinch of Salt
- Black Pepper to taste
- ¼ cup grated fresh Parmesan Cheese (28 g)
- Preheat oven to 500 F (220 degrees C).
- Peal and clean the squash. Chop into ½ inch (1.5 cm) cubes and toss with a little olive oil. Place on parchment paper on a baking tray. Bake until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes.
- Heat the olive oil and butter in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
- Add onion and garlic, saute for about 5 minutes then add white wine and saute for another 2 minutes.
- Add rice and stir for 1 ½ minutes.
- Add squash and chicken stock, saffron, sage, chopped thyme, salt and pepper, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a baking dish.
- Cook uncovered for 25 minutes until rice is fully cooked.
- Serve with grated Parmesan Cheese.