Date Night: Butternut Squash Risotto with Spicy Shrimp
Friday, November 4, 2011
I love this dish.
I love the fall color from the butternut squash. I love the rich aromatic flavor of the saffron. I love the creaminess of the risotto. And the spiciness from the shrimp. It's warm and comforting as the nights grow darker and colder, the bright orange color from the sweet roasted butternut squash just reminding you with every bite how special this time of year is.
Risotto can be funky -- it's one of those "labor of love" dishes that requires constant attention. This is not a dish to throw together and then go busy yourself with other things. The good news is it's pretty easy to make and comes together quickly enough (around 30 minutes start to finish) so although it looks complicated, it's actually not. And it tastes so divine.
I used Ina Garten's recipe for butternut squash risotto as a starting point here but took it a few steps further. First, I kept the risotto restrained and caramelized the onions for a deep, rich flavor that's irresistible. Second, I paired the delicate sweetness of the butternut squash against a more aggressively spicy shrimp by using smoked paprika and cayenne pepper for a balanced "bite" to cut against the sweetness. The combination was incredible and truly a perfect dish. I used chicken broth for the whole thing, but if you're up for it you can sub 1/4 cup of the broth out with some white wine for even more flavor. But using chicken stock completely doesn't lose flavor at all. Enjoy and happy fall everyone!
Butternut Squash Risotto with Spicy Shrimp
for the risotto:
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and seeded, then cut into cubes (about 1/2 of a smaller butternut squash)
1 Tbsp olive oil for squash + 1 Tbsp for risotto, divided
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp saffron threads
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup arborio rice
3 cups chicken stock or broth (or 2 3/4 cups broth and 1/4 cup white wine)
2 heaping Tbsp finely grated parmesan cheese
finely chopped chives for garnish
for the shrimp:
1/2 lbs raw peeled and deveined shrimp -- extra large size
1 Tbsp olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch of smoked paprika
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the cubed butternut squash in a bowl with the tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste. Layer out on a baking sheet and roast in oven until tender, about 20-25 minutes. Set aside. This can be done even a day in advance.
While the butternut squash roasts, prep your shrimp. Wash the shrimp well and pat dry well with a paper towel. Place in bowl and add the olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, the cayenne and smoked paprika and toss to coat evenly with the seasonings. Set aside. This can be done a day in advance, but note the shrimp will taste spicier the longer they sit in the seasonings.
Place all of the broth in a saucepan and warm up to a low simmer. Once simmering, cover with lid so it doesn't evaporate and keep the flame on very low. (You need to use hot broth when making risotto, so don't plan to use room temperature or cold at all for this.)
To make the risotto, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to a large saute pan or pot and the butter. Once butter has melted, add the onion and season with a small pinch of salt. The salt helps the onions caramelize. Cook about 10 minutes on medium-low heat stirring occasionally until onions are well softened and begin to turn a caramel color. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the rice all at once and cook for 2 minutes to toast, stirring often. Add the saffron and 2 ladles of the heated broth. You'll notice the broth will sizzle when it hits the pan -- this is normal. Using a sturdy wooden spoon, gently mix the rice with the broth. Stirring occasionally and keeping the heat on medium, let the broth soak into the rice. Once you've noticed the rice has absorbed all the broth you put in, add another ladle of broth, stir it occasionally again until the rice absorbs this amount. Keep doing this until you use up all of your broth and the rice is plump and tender, but still al dente to taste. Take occasional bites of the rice as you get towards the end to make sure it's softening. If you use up all the broth and your rice is still very hard, just add more broth and repeat the technique until it's tender, but the amount stated really should be enough.
Once the rice is al dente you'll notice it's also gotten considerably thicker and has a creamy texture to it. Don't cook it to the point where the liquid is 100% absorbed; you want to keep a little moisture there because the cheese when you add it will soak it up and you don't want the risotto to be too "hard." Quickly turn off the heat, add the butternut squash and parmesan cheese to the risotto and gently fold them in. Add some of the chives, reserving some for garnish at the end. Set aside and quickly cook the shrimp.
Heat a nonstick pan to high. Dump the shrimp in the pan and cook about 1 minute on each side, or until shrimp is cooked through -- turns opaque in the white parts and bright orange/pink and is firm to the touch.