Creamy parmesan and leek risotto topped with roasted butternut squash, pancetta, and a drizzle of sage oil. The classic yet bold flavors make this creamy risotto recipe comforting and hard to resist. While the squash roasts, make the risotto slowly on the stovetop or hands-off in the Instant Pot. Either way, this dish comes together very simply!
The inspiration for this roasted butternut squash risotto came from my friend Erin from Naturally Ella's vegan farro risotto. On any given night, when I dig out random forgotten veggies from my produce drawer, I turn to Erin to get me out of my pre-dinner rut. She's a master at quick vegetarian recipes with unique flavor profiles. I've made dozens of her recipes and loved every single one (these halloumi burrito bowls are on a monthly rotation).So when I needed non-soup inspiration for a butternut squash, I turned to her.
From the outset, I full intended to make her risotto. But with rice to make it gluten-free. And pancetta and fried sage because I had them on hand. And then I swapped in parmesan for the walnut cream when Zoella got antsy for dinner. You can see where this is going, I'm sure. Then I threw the risotto in the Instant Pot so I could multitask with the kids. I ended up with a very non-vegan risotto with roasted butternut squash loosely inspired by Erin's dish, but it was so delicious we made it again and again. Even still, I give Erin credit for inspiring my dinner yet again.
If you've ever watched Top Chef, you might now be terrified of making risotto. Any time a contestant says they're making risotto, Lucas and I all but throw the remote at the TV, "DON'T DO IT!" We'll write off that contestant before they begin cooking. Even Tom Colicchio has recognized that risotto on Top Chef is always doomed to fail.
Now listen, we're not on Top Chef. We're not making risotto for Tom Colicchio. We're making risotto for ourselves and our friends or families. Don't let him scare you from trying. First and foremost, remember: these people love you.
What's more, these flavors are hard hitters. Simmer the risotto with leeks until creamy, fold in parmesan, top with roasted butternut squash and pancetta, then drizzle with sage oil. As long as you cook your rice appropriately - somewhere in the generous range between crunchy and soggy - you've got an all-star dish. If you don't nail the exact creamy texture that slowly spreads on your plate to win over a chef trained in Italian cooking - that's OKAY! I'll help you get pretty dang close!
What is Risotto? What is Arborio Rice?
If you don't watch Top Chef you may be wondering - what is the big deal with risotto? What's so hard about cooking rice? Risotto is an Italian rice dish that is slowly cooked in broth until it turns creamy. Using a high starch short grain rice is necessary to achieving that texture. Folding in parmesan at the end help too.
There are a few types of rice that are ideal for making risotto. Arborio rice is the easiest to find in the grocery store and it's what I've used here - it also happens to be the same rice I use in my rice pudding, so one bag and you've got dinner and dessert (though I don't recommend serving them on the same night). If you can find it, carnaroli rice has a slightly higher starch content and will thus make for a slightly creamier texture.
Whichever rice you choose, don't rinse the rice. Resist the urge because unlike when you make jasmine or basmati rice, you want all those starches in your dish to make a creamy smooth porridge-like risotto.
Creamy Risotto Recipe: How to make Risotto on the Stove Top
When making risotto on the stove top, the general rule is to use about 3-4 cups of broth for every cup of rice. Add only about ½ cup of broth - just enough to wet the rice - and cook that down before adding more. Stir occasionally to absorb and help rub the starches off the rice and repeat until creamy. This process shouldn't take longer than 20 minutes. (If you want to get a little more scientific, here's a guide on how to make perfect risotto. If you're making this with a baby on your hip like I am, feel free to charge on and trust me!).
Once you've got that basic process down, it's a matter of infusing the rice with flavors. I start by cooking some pancetta or bacon in the pan until crispy. I set the pancetta aside and soften the leeks in the bacon grease with a little more butter (hello flavor!) before tossing in the rice to toast for a minute. Now it's time to start adding liquid. Ladle in the broth ½ cup at a time as described above.
Instant Pot Risotto: How to cook Rice in an Instant Pot
If standing over the stove for 20 minutes while a toddler tugs at your ankles to read another Curious George book the entire time sounds less than pleasant, you can still make a delicious dinner-party worthy risotto in the Instant Pot. AND read Curious George. Win Win. That's more my speed. (If he heard, Tom Colicchio would probably cringe at the thought of making risotto in the Instant Pot.)
When making rice and risotto in the Instant Pot or pressure cooker, you'll need to add less liquid. The Instant Pot builds up steam pressure with a tight seal to cook your food more quickly. In this process, none of the liquid evaporates. For this risotto, I use only 3 cups of broth for 1.5 cups of rice, which is enough broth to perfectly cook the rice while still resulting in a smooth creamy texture.
How to make Fried Sage & Sage Oil
The by product of frying sage is a fragrant sage oil to garnish your dish. Add ¼ cup of olive oil to a small skillet over medium-high heat. Toast the sage leaves in batches for about 10 seconds before transferring with chopsticks or a fork to a paper towel lined plate. You've got crisp fried sage leaves to crumble over the top and an herbaceous sage oil all in one go.
You certainly could make things a little quicker by roasting the butternut squash with minced sage leaves. Though I love the aromatics that crisp fried sage leaves and sage oil add to the risotto.
This risotto relies on layers of flavor - creamy parmesan risotto, roasted butternut, salty crisp pancetta, and crunchy fried sage with a drizzle of earthy sage oil. These classic flavor pairings shine on top of a creamy risotto that's simple enough to make on a weeknight and exciting enough for a dinner party!
Roasted Butternut & Pancetta Risotto
- 1 large or two small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½ inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 6-8 ounces diced pancetta or chopped thick-cut bacon
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 small leek, white and light green parts, finely chopped (about ¾ cup)
- 1½ cups arborio rice or carnaroli rice
- 3 cups chicken broth (if using stovetop method instead of Instant Pot method, use 4.5-6 cups broth)
- ¾ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Salt & Pepper, to taste
Fried Sage & Sage Oil
- About 20 fresh sage leaves
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Roasted Butternut & Pancetta RIsotto
- Preheat the oven to 400°F, Toss the butternut squash cubes with olive oil and salt on a large baking sheet. I use a dark baking sheet with no parchment paper because I want to brown the squash well, but any baking sheet will do and use parchment paper if you wish. Roast the squash for 30-40 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes and rotating the pan from the middle to the bottom rack halfway through.
- Meanwhile, prepare the risotto. If using an Instant Pot, turn it to sauté on normal and add the pancetta. Cook, stirring, until the fat renders and the pancetta crisps up. Use tongs to transfer the pancetta to a paper towel lined plate, leaving a tablespoon of the grease behind. If using the stove top, do the same thing in a large skillet over medium heat.
- To the Instant Pot or skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter into the pancetta fat. Add the chopped leeks and cook, stirring, for 2-4 minutes until beginning to soften. Melt in the remaining tablespoon of butter. Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes.
- If using the Instant Pot, pour in the chicken broth. Place the lid on the pressure cooker and set the pressure release valve to the steaming position. Set the pressure to "high" pressure for 6 minutes. When the timer is up, carefully move the pressure release valve to venting position for a manual pressure release. Once the float valve has gone down, open the lid and stir in the grated parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- If using the stove top, reduce heat to medium and stir in just ½ cup of chicken broth. Cook, stirring occasionally to absorb and help rub the starches off the rice. When the broth has mostly absorbed, add another ½ cup, repeat until the rice is cooked al dente and the risotto is creamy. This process shouldn't take longer than 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the grated parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- While the risotto cooks, fry the sage leaves as below.
- Top risotto with roasted butternut, crispy pancetta, a few crumbled fried sage leaves, and a small drizzle of sage oil.
Fried Sage and Sage Oil
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a small skillet (I like to use a cast-iron skillet). When the oil is hot, work in batches, adding 3-4 sage leaves at a time. Cook for 10-15 seconds until they shrivel and turn bright green, turning once if needed. Transfer leaves to a paper towel lined plate to cool. The leaves will crisp up as they cool.
- Transfer sage oil to a jar to cool and drizzle over risotto.