Butternut Squash and Pancetta Risotto

I was happy to discover butternut squash from Sweet Bee farms in Bukidnon at the local SM Hypermarket. Having read about this specie of the usual kalabasa we find in the Philippines from local food blogs like Marketmanila and Dessert Comes First, my curiosity was piqued, and I couldn’t resist after finally seeing some beautiful specimens in the grocery. This is a winter squash, so it can only be grown locally in relatively colder climates like breezy Bukidnon down in Mindanao.

I usually make some variation of mushroom risotto, but after hearing a lot of good things about butternut squash risotto, I decided to try this variant out. I guess hardcore risotto pundits would call my version inauthentic, because I don’t like my risotto as soupy as traditional recipes, but I liked how this one came out, topped with crisped-up pancetta, parmegiano reggiano, and a few extra dollops of butter. It was still creamy, and a combination of slightly sweet, savory and salty, and a bit of acid from the white wine.

I used half a squash for this, and roasted the other half with some dried sage (fresh sage is close to impossible to get here), olive oil, salt and pepper. Delicate, creamy, delicious.

Most people use white wine with butternut squash risotto, and I’m curious as to how beer would work. I’ve seen a recipe or two with Blue Moon or Sierra Nevada online. I guess a witbier would be apt. Hoegaarden, maybe if one’s on a budget. I feel like this would be a waste of Hitachino Nest White Ale, as that beer is a bit too pricy. I’d rather drink it than cook with it. But for a special occasion, why not? You’ll probably only need a cup of it, then drink the rest while cooking. If you’re a risotto traditionalist, then all that gratuitous stirring would do with a bit of refreshment. Personally, as much as I’ve learned that the old-school nonstop stirring method of cooking risotto is more of a myth, I’m a bit of a panicked cook who needs to keep doing something, so I still keep with that tradition if I’m not busy preparing other stuff simultaneously.

As for the usual mushroom risotto, I figure I can get away with a more strongly-flavored beer like a brown or amber ale, or maybe even a doppelbock? I’ll have to experiment on this.

Incidentally, speaking of cooking with beer, I just found my new favorite beer blog, Vanessa’s The Beer Cook. Creative recipes, not just limited to beer-batters and beer-braisings; eye-catching photos; unique and interesting pairings. Be sure to check it out. I think that page is exemplary of what this blog aspires to be one day.

Method: Cut the squash up into even-sized cubes, drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, pepper and sage, and roast in the oven until soft. meanwhile, crisp up some pancetta in the skillet, and remove. Add some olive oil to the glorious porcine grease, sweat some finely chopped onions and garlic, add the squash and mash it up. Add carnaroli rice, cook for a minute until translucent. Splash some white wine (or witbier) and reduce. Then either add chicken broth a ladle at a time and keep stirring, or add it all in one go, stirring occasionally. Cover the pan if you’re doing the latter. When the rice gets al dente, season with salt and pepper and top it off with butter and parmegiano reggiano, and let it rest covered. Top it all off finally with the crisped pancetta and more cheese.

No measurements, since I did this a long time ago. Usually I do a cup and a half of rice, which should be good for four or five people as a side or a primi.

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