Squash risotto (or risotto con la zucca), is a traditional risotto common in all northern Italy. The squash gives an especially mealy texture, and a sweeter flavor to it, along of course with a beautiful orange color. But what is squash, exactly?
Along with melon, watermelon, cucumber, zucchini, pumpkin, and gourd, squash belongs to a plant family called cucurbitaceae. Even though they’re all fruits, with the exception of melon and watermelon, the cucurbitaceae are used as vegetables. There are two kinds of squash: summer squash (e.g.: zucchini, straightneck squash), harvested as they ripen in the summer, and winter squash (e.g.: acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash), harvested in fall, when they are fully mature, their seeds have dried out, and their skin has hardened. Winter squashes have historically played a significant role in the kitchen because they can keep for several months (lasting well through winter) and because when cooked they develop an agreeable flavor, and a starchy, mealy texture similar to sweet potatoes*. Out of the various kinds of winter squash, the sub-family called ‘cucurbita maxima’ is particularly notable because of its size. In Italy, it’s generally called zucca gialla o dolce (yellow or sweet pumpkin), an example of which is the zucca mantovana (Mantua’s pumpkin) used to make the renowned tortelli con la zucca (pumpkin tortelli). In North America, cucurbita maxima includes several common squashes: hubbard, turban, kabocha, buttercup, and banana squash. Banana squash is especially suitable for this recipe because of its moderate sweetness and firm texture.
*Harold McGee. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. 2nd edition (2004)
- 250 g winter squash (e.g. banana squash)
- ¼ white onion, sliced
- 1 tablespoon of butter, olive oil, or a mix of the two
- 2/3 cup Arborio rice
- 2 ½ cups vegetable stock
- ½ glass white wine, at room temperature
- 20 g Parmigiano, grated
- Salt and black pepper
- Finely chop onion and dice the squash.
- Bring the vegetable stock to a simmer in a small pan.
- In a larger pan, roast the onion in butter, oil, or a mix of the two until translucent, then add the squash.
- Season with salt and cook until the squash is soft. Put a couple of tablespoons of it aside and keep warm, mash the rest with a ricer (or in the blender).
- In the pan where the squash was roasted, add a bit more butter or oil, then toast the rice for a couple of minutes at medium heat until translucent. Add the white wine and stir until it fully evaporates.
- Add the mashed squash and stir in the stock, one ladle at a time, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more stock.
- Continue stirring and adding stock ensuring that the risotto and the stock continue boiling gently throughout the process.
- After 15 minutes of cooking, at a time when the risotto is quite moist, remove it from the heat, stir in the Parmigiano, and let it rest for a minute.
- Serve the risotto in bowls and decorate with the cooked squash and a sprinkle of black pepper.