Roasted Butternut Squash, Pistachio, and Brown Butter Risotto with Fried Sage Leaves
This rich, comforting, and utterly delicious Butternut Squash, Pistachio, and Brown Butter Risotto showcases a classic Italian flavor trio in a new, memorable way.
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This risotto was born from my aspiration of incorporating pistachios in savory dishes more often, a habit I picked up after traveling through Sicily back in the summer of 2015. As one of the pistachio-producing capitals of the world, Sicily isn’t shy about using the delicious, bright green nut in all sorts of contexts, but to my surprise, all my favorite discoveries were savory. I enjoyed them sprinkled over a wide variety of dishes during the trip, as I quickly trained my eyes to spot them in menus. I just couldn’t get enough of the soft, almost creamy taste they contributed to delicately flavored creations, such as fish and seafood pasta dishes.
I like to say that risotto is my favorite weeknight dish, because, in its basic form, it’s a true 30-minute meal. This Roasted Butternut Squash, Pistachio, and Brown Butter Risotto is perfect for those nights when you want to impress: the combination of flavors is nothing short of spectacular. You might be familiar with the trio of butternut squash, brown butter, and sage, but have you ever had it in a risotto? The soft cubes of squash cozily blend into the creamy rice, the brown butter adds a nutty dimension, and the aromatic fried sage leaves add a subtle crunch, which is nicely complemented by the pistachios. Though it makes for an elegant holiday-worthy dish, don’t just save it for later: serve the risotto in simple bowls and enjoy it curled up on the sofa under a warm blanket, with a nice glass of wine and a movie. My definition of the perfect night in!
For the roasted butternut squash: Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add the butternut squash cubes, then drizzle with the olive oil and season with a generous pinch of kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat evenly, then spread over the sheet so the squash cubes all fit in a single layer. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the squash cubes feel soft when you poke them with the tip of a knife. Set aside.
For the brown butter: In a small aluminum saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Lower the heat to medium-low, and let the butter simmer away, swirling the pan frequently. If the butter bubbles up, preventing you from seeing what’s happening (that’s the water evaporating), lift the pot off the heat for a few seconds until the bubbles recede, then put back on the heat. The butter is ready when the milk solids at the bottom of the pot turn a light brown color and the concoction gives off a delicious hazelnut aroma. The process should take 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the butter from the heat, and pour in a small bowl, making sure to scrape all the browned bits off the pan and into the bowl.
For the fried sage leaves: In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the sage leaves, making sure they lay flat in the oil. Fry about a few seconds, keeping a close eye on the skillet, until the sage leaves shrink some. Carefully turn the leaves over and fry for a few seconds more, until they’re dark and crisp. The leaves should not be burnt or black: lift the skillet off from the heat if the leaves seem to fry too quickly. Once done, transfer the leaves to paper towels to drain. Set aside.
For the risotto: Pour the vegetable broth in a medium saucepan, then add the minced sage. Warm over low heat until just simmering, then keep warm.
In a large pan, or in a cast-iron braiser, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced leek and sauté over low heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tbsp (15 ml) of the brown butter (save the rest for service) and the risotto rice and stir 2 minutes. Add the white wine and simmer until the wine is absorbed. Add 1 ladleful broth; stir until the broth is almost completely absorbed. Continue adding broth, one ladleful at a time, allowing each ladle to be absorbed before adding more. When there's about 1 ladleful of broth left, stir in the lemon zest. Risotto is perfectly cooked when it is tender with a little bite.
Lower the heat to the minimum and add the grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted. Stir in the remaining broth. The risotto should be loose and super creamy. Stir the roasted squash and half of the chopped pistachio nuts.
SERVING: Divide between warm shallow bowls. Sprinkle with the remaining pistachio nuts. Drizzle some of the remaining brown butter over each serving. Sprinkle with a little flaky sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
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