I know I’ve already shared a Risotto Milanese recipe with you, and in many ways this Saffron and Butternut Squash Risotto is similar. But there are a number of key changes that set it apart, make it worth its own post. The obvious change, the addition of butternut squash, makes this dish even heartier, and even more appropriate for Fall. I also added some leftover shredded chicken to make it even more of a meal in one, but without it the risotto is a great vegetarian main or side. The other big change I made here is to use a mix of the usual arborio rice and barley. The barley adds a chewy texture, while the arborio rice becomes creamy with constant stirring.
My husband declared it the best risotto he’d ever eaten, citing the barley as the game changer. Of course, you can use all arborio rice for the usual experience, as well as a naturally gluten free risotto (barley contains gluten). For an even chewier risotto you can also use all barley. I’ve used both pearl and hulled barley in risotto and while pearl barley is supposed to cook faster, I actually prefer hulled. But use whichever you prefer and have available.
Paolo from Disgraces on the Menu gave me a great risotto-making tip: make sure the stock is hot. This will ensure the risotto cooks evenly and quickly. Although recipes usually call for this I got a little lazy with keeping the stock warm and I can tell you it really makes a difference. This recipe was originally inspired from an Ina Garten recipe on Food Network. For another awesome Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash check out Sandra’s version on Sandra’s Easy Cooking!
- 2 pounds butternut squash (1 large), peeled, seeds removed, and cut into ½-inch dice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup finely chopped onion or shallot
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1 cup pearl barley
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup shredded chicken or turkey breast (optional)
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Place the squash on a pan and toss with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring the stock to a simmer in a small saucepan. Leave it on low heat.
- Soak the saffron in a tablespoon or two of hot stock and allow to infuse.
- In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and saute the onions on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not browned.
- Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter.
- Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, and season with salt and pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until absorbed, then add more stock.
- Continue until the rice and barley are cooked through, but still al dente, 30 to 40 minutes total. Add the roasted squash cubes and chicken, if using, and stir to combine.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Mix well and serve.