easy, whole grain, butternut squash risotto.


Risotto is one of those amazing Italian dishes that’s been made in a very specific way for a very long time.  There really is a method to the madnes.  First, only certain types of rice can be used – short grain rice that gives off the most starch during cooking (traditionally, carnaroli or arborio).  The rice grains need to be coated by a fat (oil or butter) and toasted with the fat to enhance the flavor and ensure that each grain of rice cooks evenly.  Then, wine must be added and absorbed into the rice grains.  The rice is then cooked very slowly over very low heat, adding one ladle of broth at a time and stirring almost constantly, ensuring that each ladle-full is almost fully absorbed before adding the next.  The result is a creamy, comforting, amazing bowl of risotto.


If you’ve ever tried to make a whole-grain risotto you know that it can take about 5 times as long to make as a regular risotto (which usually takes about 20-25 minutes).  This is because brown rice requires much more time to cook, and soaks up about double the amount of broth that regular risotto uses.  While I’m all for tradition (especially in Italian cooking), I know that there is no way I’d stand over a stove for over an hour ensuring that my whole grain risotto is cooked to perfection.  I decided to experiment with some different risotto-cooking methods, and found that a whole grain risotto that’s started on the stove and finished in the oven is incredibly simple and doesn’t lack any of the traditional risotto qualities; it’s creamy and perfectly cooked.  

Butternut squash risotto is my favorite for fall.  It’s so comforting and delicious.  This version of risotto is not only healthier because of the brown rice (and yes, it’s very important to use short-grain brown rice; the consistency will be different with long-grain), but it also contains only one tablespoon of olive oil (no butter!) and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese.  The starch from the rice makes the risotto creamy on it’s own, so there’s no need to add a ton of fat, cheese or cream.  This is a great, satisfying fall meal, and thanks to the convenient oven-cooking method, there’s no reason not to make it!

Whole-Grain Butternut Squash Risotto

1 1/2 cups short grain brown rice
8 cups vegetable broth
1 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled and cubed* (about 3 cups)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (optional)
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbsp. scallions, finely chopped
non-stick cooking spray
salt and pepper
*If peeling and cubing the butternut squash seems like a lot of work, you can always cut the squash in half and roast it (cut side down, spraying with cooking spray) for about 7 minutes longer than the recipe suggests.  Allow the squash to cool until you can handle it, and then remove the peel (it will be easy to remove after roasting) and cut the squash into bite-size cubes.

Preheat the oven to 400.

Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray, place the butternut squash on the baking sheet, spray lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, until just tender.

Add the broth to a pot and bring to a simmer.

Spray an ovenproof pot/french oven/deep saute pan (if you don’t have one, start in a saute pan on the stove and then transfer to a casserole dish before placing in the oven later) with non-stick cooking spray.  Add the onion to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook over low heat on the stove for about 7 minutes, until softened.  Add in the rice and olive oil, coating the rice with the oil and onions.  Cook for an additional 40 seconds.  Add in the white wine and cook until the wine is completely absorbed (about 3-4 minutes) stirring often.  

Raise the heat to medium and stir in one ladle-full of broth.  Stir the rice mixture frequently until the broth is almost completely absorbed (about 4 minutes).  Repeat one more time, and then add all of the remaining broth (if using a saute pan, add in half of the broth and the remaining broth after 45 minutes), vanilla and nutmeg.  Cover, and carefully place in the oven.  After 45 minutes, remove from the oven, stir, and add in the butternut squash.  Re-cover and place in the oven for an additional 40-45 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked but non over-cooked.  


Remove from the oven, fold in the parmesan cheese and top with fresh scallions.  Serve immediately.




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