Rizzo e Zucca (Rice and Butternut Squash)

Rice and Butternut SquashWinds of Change

It was windy this morning with a tiny hint of chill in the air. This got me excited—it felt like fall had actually arrived (although warmer temperatures will stick around for a while). Right about this time of year my cooking habits change. My grill is used less and less, and my giant Dutch ovens start to see the light of day, on the stove or the heat of the oven. It’s all about the braising and the slow cooking, now.

My cooking technique is not the only thing that changes; my tastes change as well. I veer toward comfort food and fall-off-the-bone meats with mashed potatoes. Rice dishes become the norm. Apples, sage, sausage, and squash become my go to ingredients—as well as plenty of pork. And then, there is the Italian food…

Italian cuisine is a no-brainer in my house because it is approved of by my entire family. The recipes I choose are usually hearty, relatively simple, and definitely satisfying. A slow-simmered Sunday gravy (a.k.a meaty tomato sauce) can be the perfect end to a weekend of football and other sports. Throw in a nice bottle of wine and some fresh crusty bread, and I am a happy girl.

This week’s recipe is a typical Italian fall dish: one you will see often grace my autumn table. It’s easy to make, and oh so satisfying. Rizzo e Zucca comes from Lidia Bastianich cookbook titled, Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy. This is not your typical Italian cookbook. The recipes are mostly from the lesser known areas of Italy, and are the food that would be eaten everyday, by locals.

Rizzo e Zucca (Rice and Butternut Squash)
Adapted from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy by Lidia Bastianich
Serves 6

2 pounds butternut squash
1 cup onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup carrot, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup celery, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt
5 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock, plus more if needed
2 cups Italian short-grain rice, such as Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano

For the Topping
2 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for passing

Trim, peel, and remove the seeds from the squash. Cut it into half-inch cubes. This should amount to approximately 4 cups. Using a food processor, mince the onion, carrot and celery chunks to a fine-textured paste (pestata).

Put the olive oil and butter in a saucepan set over medium heat. When the butter is melted, scrape in the pestata and season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring until the moisture is gone, and the paste just begins to stick.

Pour in the hot stock, and bring to a boil. Drop in the squash, all of the rice, and the remaining salt while continuing to stir. Return the liquid to a boil, cover the pan and reduce the heat to keep the rice bubbling gently. Cook for about 14 minutes, or until the rice and squash are cooked and the consistency is creamy.

Turn off the heat, drop in the butter pieces, and stir vigorously until thoroughly amalgamated. Stir in the grated cheese, spoon rice into warm pasta bowls, and serve immediately. Pass round additional grated cheese at the table.

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