In many ways, risotto is the perfect meal to prepare for a dinner or date-night in. It's relatively simple, requiring inexpensive ingredients; still, these humble origins are belied by its reputation for being difficult to prepare and hence pretty impressive. In reality, the risotto technique can be mastered by most home cooks, who should prize this dish for its versatility.
Risotto is almost endlessly customizable and can be tailored to reflect the flavors and produce of a particular time of year. This acorn squash risotto, dotted with crisp nuggets of smoky, salty bacon, topped with fried sage leaves, and perfumed with aromatic nutmeg is the perfect way to welcome the beginning of autumn.
Total cost: $8.94
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large pot over medium heat, sauté the bacon for around 5 minutes, until dark and crispy. Once cooked, remove the bacon and set aside. (Do not remove excess bacon fat from the pot.)
While the oven is heating, place the squash cubes in a single layer in a 10-inch Pyrex baking dish. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and season to taste with salt and fresh black pepper. With a spoon or your hands, mix the squash to ensure it is evenly coated with the oil, salt, and pepper. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and roast squash in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until fork-tender.
While the squash is roasting, begin the risotto. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the remaining bacon fat. Add the diced onion and sauté over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, until soft and caramelized. Once the onion has caramelized, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pot. Add the rice and sauté over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes, then add ½ cup broth to the rice and stir constantly until the liquid is fully absorbed by the rice.
After the first ½ cup of broth has been completely absorbed, continue adding the remaining broth in small ¼-½ cup increments (this process will take around 40 minutes). After each addition of broth, stir frequently until all of the excess liquid has been completely absorbed by the rice grains. As it cooks, the risotto will thicken and appear creamy. Season with salt and pepper, tasting after each addition, throughout the cooking process. Add the nutmeg after the risotto has been cooking for 30 minutes.
After 40 minutes, check the consistency of the rice: if the rice is still slightly firm or underdone, continue to cook and add small additions of broth (you may end up using anywhere between 4 or 5 cups of broth in total). The risotto will be finished cooking when the rice is no longer firm and the overall texture is soft and creamy.
Once the risotto has finished cooking, turn the heat to low and add the roasted squash pieces and the sautéed bacon. Stir to incorporate fully. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and stir until it has melted completely into the risotto. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, and nutmeg accordingly.
While the risotto is cooking, in a small skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Once the butter has melted, add the fresh sage leaves to the skillet, making sure they do not overlap. Cook on medium-low heat until the sage leaves have become dark green and crisp. When the sage has finished frying, serve the risotto in bowls and top with the fried sage leaves.