Lately, I’ve been on a crazy butternut squash kick, mostly due to the fact that my local discount grocery store has been selling great big ones for only $1.50. Perhaps my favorite squash dish is this rice dish that my Nonna in Tuscany makes. It’s amazing and the very embodiment of fall time. I love the combination of rosemary and butternut squash. I have added some things to her recipe, namely Italian sausage and spinach, to this dish to make it more of a full, week-night, meal to feed my hungry fireman. If you leave out the sausage, its a great primo (Italian first course) or vegetarian dish.
Now, let me clarify a bit on the term ‘risotto.’ It’s my huge pet peeve when a celebrity chef or ‘Italian’ restaurant uses incorrect terms to describe their food. For goodness-sake, if I were on TV or making a restaurant menu, I would make darn sure what I was saying was correct!
Now I’m going to indulge my love of languages and culinary etymology for a little bit. ‘Risotto’ is a dish and/or cooking method, it is not an ingredient or type of rice. If you break down the Italian word into its two parts, ‘ris-otto,’ it means, roughly, ‘rice-preparation’ or ‘rice-method;’ it really doesn’t translate well, but the first bit means ‘rice’ and the second bit refers to a process or cooking method. You can use this ‘risotto’ cooking method on any number of grains, from the traditional arborio rice or canaroli rice to other grains like farro or barley; but if you were to use a different grain, like farro, for example, the dish’s name would become ‘farrotto’ instead of ‘risotto.’
The ‘risotto’ cooking method involves sauteing some aromatics, adding a short grain Italian rice too, and then slowly adding in hot stock a little bit at at time and finishing it with a generous bit of hard cheese. This method results in the grains releasing their starches and yielding a creamy texture without any need for gratuitous heavy cream use. Quite delicious, no? I was quite happy when my unofficial Mother-in-Law requested to cook some risotto together, as it’s one of my favorite dishes to make. In a few weeks, I’m planning a post-Thanksgiving meal of Leftover Turkey Risotto, made in the official ‘risotto’ method for when the whole family comes to visit. The holidays are here, yay!
Italians prepare short grain rices in a variety of different and amazing ways other than in the ‘risotto’ method but the resulting dishes are called ‘riso’. Today’s recipe certainly falls in this category: it uses a grain of rice commonly used for ‘risotto’, but because it doesn’t follow the ‘risotto’ procedure it is simply called rice or ‘riso.’
Riso con Zucca, Salsica e Spinaci– Rice with squash, sausage and Spinnach
Serves 3-4 – cost approx $1.48 per serving
- 1 lb ground Italian sausage – I got a sale on Jimmy Dean Italian Sausage, it had a really nice fennel seed flavor… ($1.99)
- 1 medium onion, small dice ($.08)
- 2 cups butternut, medium dice – about 1 lb ($.43)
- 4 cups chicken broth, divided use – if you were making a vegetarian dish, use vegetable stock
- 1 cup arborio rice – any short grain Italian rice would be great ($.94)
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 tsp rosemary, minced
- 5 oz baby spinnach ($1)
- ½ cup finely grated parmesan ($.50)
Heat a large pot over medium and brown the sausage, breaking it into bite size pieces. Once the sausage is cooked, remove it from the pan, reserving any fat that was rendered. Saute the onion and butternut squash in the sausage fat. (If you’re making a vegetarian version, simply heat 2 Tbs of olive oil to sauté the onion and squash). Add 2 cups of stock and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Next, add in the rice and return to a simmer. As the rice cooks in the stock it will soften and absorb the liquid. When the liquid level is low, give the mixture a stir and add in the remaining stock and rosemary. The rice will become tender with about 20 minutes of simmer time, when it’s almost there, give it a taste and adjust the seasonings. When the rice is cooked to your taste (al dente or completely soft, it’s up to you!) add back the reserved sausage and mix in the baby spinach to quickly wilt it. Garnish with the parmesan. Buon Apettito!