We love risotto. It’s a lot of work for a typical meal, but the results are always well worth it. One of the great things about risotto is that there are so many flavor options and Giada de Laurentiis’ variation is a perfect example. The natural sweetness of the squash combined with the vanilla gives the risotto a whole new flavor base that you wouldn’t expect for a normally (very) savory dish.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
– 1 large vanilla bean
– 3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
– 3 tablespoons butter
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1 cup Arborio rice
– 1/2 cup white wine
– 1/2 Parmesan cheese
– salt and pepper

This recipe is ultra easy because there’s no extra pots for cooking meat or anything else that you add to the actual rice. Like all risotto, you want to start by heating the broth — bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer and let it hang out while you’re cooking.

You’ll want to add the vanilla bean to the broth right away. Cut it in half, scrape out the seeds and put everything in the broth. The big difference here is that you’ll cook the squash in the broth, so once it comes to a boil add the squash and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the squash is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the squash from the liquid and set aside. Leave the heat on the broth in order to keep it at a warm temperature.

Meanwhile, in a pot (or pan) large enough to cook all the rice in, heat two tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Saute the onion with salt and pepper until tender and see-through, about three minutes. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat all the grains with butter. Next, add the first batch of liquid — the wine. Stirring constantly, let the wine simmer until it has evaporated almost completely, about three minutes. After the liquid has evaporated, begin adding the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, letting it evaporate almost completely before each addition. Make sure to continue stirring throughout the cooking process. Continue adding liquid and letting it evaporate until the rice is tender, but still a little firm, and creamy, about 20 minutes after adding the wine.

Once the rice is cooked, turn the heat off and stir in the Parmesan cheese, cubed squash and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.

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Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto

I absolutely loved this variation on risotto. Billy…not so much. The sweetness of the squash and vanilla added a hint of sweet to this normally savory dish, but Billy seemed to think it was overpowering. I thought it was perfect. It was a great meal for a fall day — not to mention that it made the house smell delicious. The one thing I didn’t like about the dish were the cubes of squash. I would have rather pureed them or just left them out completely because the flavor that was left in the broth was enough for the whole dish. An alternative to the over-sweetness that Billy tasted could be to leave out the vanilla…maybe that’s a test for the future.

This recipe can be found in Giada’s latest book, Giada’s Kitchen, or on the Food Network Web site. Even though Billy wasn’t a huge fan of the dish, I highly recommend it for anyone who loves risotto!

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