Saffron & Butternut Squash Risotto

On my old blog, I had a pretty basic recipe for butternut squash risotto, which is still my go-to for a cold winter's night. However, this recipe takes this simple dish over the top with the addition of pancetta (or bacon) and saffron. The smoky bacon and rich and subtle saffron add not only beautiful color, but also a depth of flavor that brings this relatively ordinary meal a very special quality. Saffron & Butternut Squash Risotto (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa, Family Style)

1 butternut squash (2 pounds)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

5 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons butter

2 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced

1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon saffron threads

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and sauté the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes, until the rice has absorbed it. Add 1/2 cup of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.