Wednesday, September 24, 2008

experimenting with risotto recipes - recipe: risotto with butternut squash, maple bacon & fresh thyme

Risotto is a dish that some home chefs are reluctant to prepare because of the work and time involved.

I'm not afraid to make it, but sometimes I'm afraid to "say it" because my husband, David, (who is of Italian descent) sometimes teases me for calling it "rah-ZAW-toe."

When I was at chef school, my class was fortunate enough to learn about risotto from visiting chefs from Italy. They inspired me to experiment with recipes (and also stressed that a plate of correctly prepared risotto should move like a wave when jostled).

Risotto really isn't very complicated -- however it does take a bit of time to prepare. I would describe it as an Italian rice dish that is made by stirring hot chicken or beef stock into a mixture of Arborio or Carnaroli rice and chopped onions (and/or shallots) that have been sauted in butter and/or oil.

The stock is added a little bit at a time -- usually in one-cup increments. Because it has to be stirred almost constantly, it's a perfect meal to prepare on a weekend when you have more time (and can treat yourself to a glass of wine while you are making it).

After all that stirring, the rice tastes incredibly "creamy."

Risottos can be flavoured with an almost infinite number of ingredients -- let your taste and imagination inspire you.

Among other things, I've used sausage, chicken, shrimp, mushrooms, pumpkin, roasted vegetables and beets (but not all at once, no matter how hungry David tells me he is).

Risotto is one of my hubby's favourite meals -- and of all the risotto combinations I've made, the following recipe is most definitely his favourite.

He actually got down on one knee and proposed after I made this for him the first time (just kidding, but he really does love the combination of the salty bacon with the sweet, tender squash).

Risotto with Butternut Squash, Maple Bacon and Fresh Thyme


  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup shallots, finely diced
  • 1 cup cooking onions, finely diced
  • 2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth or stock
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut in cubes
  • 1 package (or more -- I use a whole package) of maple bacon
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, divided
  • 4 tbsp butter (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  • Pan fry bacon in a large saute pan set over medium heat -- cook until crispy (you can also line a baking sheet with foil and parchment paper and cook the bacon in an oven).
  • Remove the bacon from its drippings, chop the bacon into one-inch pieces and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Cover and keep warm.
  • Heat two tbsp of butter and two tbsp of olive oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and shallots.
  • Saute until onion-shallot mixture begins to soften, about two minutes.
  • Add rice, stir until rice is translucent at edges but still opaque in centre, about three minutes.
  • Add the white wine and simmer until the wine is absorbed, stirring occasionally, about two-three minutes.
  • Add one cup of warm broth. Simmer until the broth is almost absorbed, stirring often, about two-three minutes. Add two cups more broth, one cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next and stirring frequently, about six-eight minutes.
  • Mix in the cubed butternut squash and the thyme and one cup of broth. Simmer until broth is just absorbed, stirring often, about five-seven minutes.
  • Add two cups more broth, one cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next and stirring frequently.
  • Add cup of grated parmesan cheese, the chopped maple bacon and four tbsp of butter (you can omit the butter if desired). Simmer until the butter melts and the risotto is creamy, stirring often and adding more broth by 1/3-cup fulls if the risotto is dry or the rice isn't quite cooked.
  • Test to make sure that the squash is fork-tender and that the rice is cooked to your liking - season with salt and pepper.
  • Portion risotto into bowls or onto plates and top with the additional cup of parmesan cheese.

Note: Knowing exactly when to add the cubed butternut squash can take a bit of practice (you don't want to add it too late or else your rice will be cooked but your squash will be raw).

If you're a bit nervous, boil or bake your squash ahead of time, and then puree it in a food processor or using a potato masher with a bit of milk or cream. Fold in the butternut squash "puree" when you add the maple bacon and the butter in step number 6 above.

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