I was lucky enough to travel in the Czech Republic and Slovakia earlier this month with a small group of 14 wonderful people. We started and ended in Prague, my new favorite city in the whole world, escaped the crowds to travel west to Karlovy Vary (a spa town very near Germany with hot springs everywhere), and retraced our steps eastward to travel through parts of Slovakia very near Poland. It was a fantastic trip, my favorite in a long time, but people, we were in the land of meat. I held out for awhile and although my food was good, it wasn't representative of the area. And my selections were limited. In the end, I threw my hands up and ate fish when I could, and yes, meat when I couldn't. When in Rome and all that….and, honestly I needed the protein.
No, that doesn't mean I'm bringing you a meat dish here. I'm way too happy to get back to my whole grains, fruits and vegetables, thank you very much. But some of the weather we had in Prague and Slovakia was cold and drizzly, and one day we got snow – fittingly, on the morning that we traveled to see the castle where the first Dracula movie was filmed. Talk about setting the mood! Very exciting stuff for those of us who live in sunny, warm, drought-land here in California. Unfortunately, I didn't pack a heavy coat, and relied on layering up to beat the cold. And on food. I had a lot of soup there (the Slavs really know how to soup) and tucked into a creamy risotto a few times, and found it to be the perfect dinner to warm up my cold body, while a cold drizzle fell outside.
Butternut Squash Risotto with Pears and Sage
- 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil divided
- 1/2 red onion sliced into thin strips about 1 cup
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup risotto rice
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese freshly grated
- 3 cups diced butternut squash, about 14 ounces
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh sage leaves
- 1 pear peeled and seeded, thinly sliced
- Warm up 1 Tbsp olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot large enough for the entire risotto dish, and add the onions. Sauté on medium high until the onions soften, about 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low for another 15 minutes. Don't move the onions around very much in the pan so they have a chance to caramelize.
- Heat the vegetable broth in the microwave oven or in a separate pot on the stove. Cover to keep warm.
- Add the rice to the onions, and sauté for 10 minutes, or until some of the kernels are lightly toasted. Add the wine and salt, and simmer for 10 minutes - or until it's been absorbed.
- Preheat the oven to 400˚F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the diced butternut squash in the remaining oil and roast for 15 minutes, or until tender.
- Stir 1 cup of warm broth into the risotto, stirring occasionally until it's absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, to the risotto, always waiting until it's completely absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup. Once the risotto has absorbed 2 cups of broth, the need to stir the risotto increases. This is the secret to getting a creamy risotto. By the final 1/2 cup, stir almost constantly. When the rice is al dente, stir in the Parmesan cheese.
- Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sage leaves and sauté until lightly crisped, about 10 minutes. Gently add the pears to warm, about 5 minutes or less.
- When the risotto is done, fold in the butternut squash, pears and sage.
- Serve warm, immediately.