When I worked as the head chef of a pop up restaurant, we used to make butternut squash velouté with beurre noisette, sage and parmesan crisp for an amuse bouche. It sounds very fancy, tasted delicious and is super simple and easy to make once you know a couple of tricks. It also serves as the base for an amazing ravioli filling or, as I’ll show below, the most unbelievably tasty risotto that you can cook in advance like they do in restaurants. In fact (as I’ve posted before here), risotto is the ultimate dinner party meal – you can spend basically no time in the kitchen during the meal and everyone loves it and finds it impressive.
First, a little refresher in how to make risotto (for all the hints on how to hold it in advance click here – I’ve put some of the big tips in the recipe below as well).
I cooked this butternut squash risotto recently for some great friends who were coming over for a quick lunch, to watch the rugby and play a few board games. However, G and I had been at a stonkingly good house party the night before and so got up late and a little groggy (luckily the friends who were coming round were at the same party!). I’d never been so glad to look in the fridge and remember I’d already done the shopping and half the cooking. There it was, a gleaming bowl of butternut squash purée that I’d remembered to make a few days ago. I was meant to make ravioli with it, but frankly didn’t really feel up to that. I served it with some honey and paprika chicken thighs but the risotto would have kept us very happy by itself.
Most risottos are finished by adding parmesan and butter. In this case, you cook the risotto as per normal – one ladleful of stock at a time – and then finish it by adding the butternut squash purée. Many recipes for butternut squash soup or purée will call for you to simmer the squash in stock or milk until it’s cooked, but that’s not how I think is best. Squash benefits a lot from being pan roasted, which forces away the moisture and concentrates the flavour. In fact, whether I was making a rich creamy velouté, a simple soup or a thick, smooth purée, I would always start by cooking the squash in a little butter or oil in a pan over a low to medium heat so as not to colour it. The fibrous squash breaks down faster, which reduces the cooking time. For a purée like this one, I only add around half a pint of whole milk for an entire butternut squash, and I only add that after the squash is completely cooked through. It will have broken down so much by that point it’s almost a purée already – although it will get much silkier once it’s been properly blitzed. Adding butter to the puree once blitzed is optional, but it does improve the flavour a lot – butternut squash, like all winter squashes or other starchy vegetables like potato, really benefit from the addition of fat due to their cell wall structure (I promise not to go into the chemistry of starchy vegetables!).
For a purely vegetarian version of the risotto, you can easily leave out the chorizo or bacon and use vegetable stock. You could make this recipe vegan by leaving out the butter and parmesan and using water instead of milk, but as I am not vegan I very much recommend you leave them in! Remember as well that the risotto will keep for at least 3 days once it’s par-cooked and the butternut squash for at least a week. So, just fit the cooking into your week whenever suits. I actually like to make more butternut squash purée than I need and reheat a little with some milk or cream to make an indulgent soup for another day (or if I’m feeling virtuous just with a little water). I use it in ravioli…or with a little cod for a quick bite….or with beef shin…or, well you get the picture!
Butternut squash risotto (Serves 6 generously)
To make the purée:
- 1 butternut squash peeled and diced
- 1 ½ white or yellow onions (red onions don’t really work), finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- Handful of thyme leaves picked and finely chopped
- 250ml whole milk (or cream)
- 50g butter cut in cubes
- Place a little olive oil in a heavy-bottomed large pan over a medium heat and add the onion with a little sea salt. Cook for ten minutes until soft and translucent.
- Add the butternut squash, thyme and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until the butternut squash is soft and collapses. This will take about 30 minutes and it’s important to cook out all the squash thoroughly so the fibres break down and the starchiness disappears.
- Add the whole milk, turn the heat right down and cook for around 5-10 minutes to remove some excess moisture.
- Transfer to a blender (or use a stick blender) until extremely smooth. Once smooth, season generously with salt and, if desired, a little pepper. Start the blender again and add the butter in cubes to the hot purée to emulsify.
- Store in the fridge until needed. If reheating as a purée and not as part of the risotto, then add a tiny amount of water or milk to a pan and reheat over a gentle heat.
To make the risotto:
- 400g Arborio or carnaroli rice
- 100g diced chorizo (or bacon)
- 2 banana shallots (or one large white onion) diced as finely as you can
- 2 cloves garlic finely sliced
- 6-8 sage leaves diced finely
- Splash of brandy (you could use dry vermouth or white wine)
- 2 litres of warm chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
- 30-50g grated parmesan
- The zest of a lemon
- The reserved butternut squash purée (room temperature or warm but not fridge cold ideally)
- In a heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat cook the chorizo in a little olive oil until the golden oil has rendered out.
- Add the diced shallot and onion with a pinch of sea salt and sweat for a few minutes until they’ve softened but without colour.
- Add the risotto rice and cook for a further minute or two until the outside edges of the grains go translucent.
- Deglaze with the splash of brandy and cook stirring until it has all evaporated.
- Add the stock ladleful by ladleful letting each ladleful evaporate before adding the next one. Stir very vigorously whilst doing this. Continue this process until the grains are cooked through – you want a little bite but for them to not be dry or chalky. If you want to stop the cooking and finish just before your guests arrive, then cook until the rice is just undercooked and has a little bit of a chalky texture left. Then to finish simply add a ladleful of stock to a pan and add the risotto and cook as before stirring all the time.
- Once the rice is cooked, take off the heat. Stir in the butternut squash purée and the parmesan, then just add the lemon zest before serving. It goes brilliantly as a meal by itself or as an accompaniment to chicken or another meat.