Cucina Valentina

Cucina Valentina

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Butternut Squash Risotto with Maple Bacon and Cranberry Cheese

Today, as I type, I'm listening to the holiday classics.  Nothing soothes my soul like the velvet voices of Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis singing traditional Christmas songs.  Next to Halloween, this is my second favorite time of year, when the air is crisp and cold, and we can huddle indoors beside a blazing fire.

Thanksgiving is behind us, thank goodness, because in our case, it was a bit of a fiasco.  We spent the holiday at the lake with our family and friends.  The weather was beautiful, albeit a bit windy, but the fish were biting...

A half hour before our our gang was due at the home of our friend with the only dining table large enough to accommodate all of us, I spotted my husband on our deck, binoculars in hand, peering out over the water.  Before I could open my mouth, he enthusiastically blurted one word, "Birds!", grabbed his fishing poles and took off running.

Now, on Thanksgiving, I handle the side dishes and Ian handles the turkey.  In this case with in excess of twenty people, two turkeys.  He'd taken off, leaving one turkey in the oven and one on the smoker!  On this day, I was more than busy juggling cheesy scalloped potatoes, cornbread stuffing with chicken apple sausages and caramelized sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts with pancetta and maple vinaigrette.

I don't carve turkeys, that's his job!

By this time golf carts are arriving  in droves to pick up us up, and still, no husband.  A friend who lives in town and had just driven across the bridge delivered the news.  He was out on a boat, across the lake fishing. 

In a collaborative effort, we got the turkeys carved and headed to dinner minus one husband.  

He arrived about an hour later, tail between his legs and a huge smile on his face.  You see, for the past five years the fish have been scarce.  He'd just caught 30+ striped bass in the course of an hour.  It was the best fishing he could remember, and he was elated! 

On the bright side, the skies exploded with color on Thanksgiving night in one of the most spectacular sunsets I've ever seen, I finally learned how to carve a turkey, and, best of all, it looks like a fish fry is in our very near future. 


On to the task at hand, risotto has always been one of my favorite autumn side dishes, and this particular combination of add-ins, which includes cranberries and maple bacon, creates the perfect flavor profile for celebrating this beautiful season.

One Butternut squash is generally more than necessary for any given recipe.  I freeze the extra cubed squash in a gallon baggie for later use.

The key to risotto is layering flavors and constant stirring to achieve that coveted creaminess.  Starting with truffle infused olive oil and butter lends an underlying richness that sets the foundation for a memorable flavor.

Once the rice is nicely toasted and you've added the wine, prepare to give it your undivided attention until the very end.  Keep pushing it around the pan to help with evaporation. The result is well worth the extra effort.


Butternut Squash Risotto with Cranberry Cheese and Maple Bacon



32 oz chicken broth
1 T butter
1 T Cucuina Valentina White Truffle Olive Oil 
1 C Arborio rice
1 C Chardonnay
3 shallots, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1t dried thyme or 1 T fresh
1/4 t rubbed sage
1 C butternut squash, 1/2 " cubed
4 slices cooked maple bacon, crumbled
4 oz Wensleydale cranberry cheese, crumbled
splash heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste 


In a stock pot, bring broth to a simmer on a back burner.  Turn flame to low and keep covered.

Heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat in a wide skillet until butter just starts to brown.  Add shallots, garlic and a few grinds of pepper and saute until just starting to soften.  

Add butternut squash and risotto and stir until rice starts to turn golden brown.  

Add Chardonnay, thyme and sage and continue to stir until liquid is absorbed.  Continue to add 1 C of broth add a time, stirring all the while and waiting until liquid is absorbed before adding next cup.  This can take up to 45 minutes or so.

When rice achieves the desired texture, turn heat to medium-low.  Stir in cheese and bacon.  Once cheese is melted and incorporated, stir in a splash of heavy cream.

I usually do not add much salt to this dish, as the reduced broth ends up salty enough, and with the addition of the bacon and cheese, you may not need any, but give it a taste at the end to check the seasoning and make sure the grains are soft, yet still a bit al dente.  You don't want a mushy texture.

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