Vegan butternut squash risotto is the perfect plant-based winter comfort food.
I love risotto. It’s pure comfort food. It’s easy to prepare, but it still looks and tastes “fancy.” I make risotto frequently when friends come over—so long as there are enough of them to keep each other company while I stir.
The downside of risotto is, of course, is the time and attention it takes to prepare. It’s not always an easy choice for busy nights. But the good news is that the process is relatively easy work, in spite of being hands-on. And my worst batch of risotto still tasted wonderful.
Last week, I decided to combine two of my favorite things—rice and butternut squash—in my first ever vegan butternut squash risotto. Naturally, the pairing of two such stellar main ingredients was a success. I loved this dish, and I hope you will, too.
Arborio rice—a type of short-grained rice with a high starch content—is what gives risotto its wonderfully creamy consistency. I’ve made risotto with other grains before, including barley, brown rice, and farro. I like the fiber and flavor of other grains. But when it comes to consistency, arborio really can’t be beat. Whenever I’m hoping to make a classic risotto, I choose arborio rice, and I keep it in my pantry for that reason.
You can absolutely make risotto in a big, heavy-bottomed pot. The problem with a deep cooking vessel is that it might delay the cooking time of your risotto, which is already considerable! A shallow, wider skillet will help the rice to absorb warm broth more quickly. I use a deep, straight-sided, nonstick sauté pan when I make risotto, and I think it makes the cooking process go smoothly.
Risotto is made by adding broth incrementally to rice, stirring as you go. The process of adding just enough broth to be absorbed in intervals creates the wonderful creaminess that risotto is known for. If you add cold broth, cooking will be slower, because each addition of broth will need to warm up before being absorbed by the rice. Keep a large saucepan of broth over a low flame next to your risotto as it cooks. The broth will be hot when it enters the sauté pan or skillet, and the risotto will cook correctly.
When I first made this recipe, I tried cooking the butternut squash in the sauté pan before adding my rice. I later realized that I was making my cooking process longer and harder than it needed to be. Roasting the butternut squash in the oven has a few advantages. First, the butternut squash becomes sweet and golden brown. It’s flavor is more intense flavor than squash that’s cooked on the stovetop.
More importantly, you can work on the risotto as the squash roasts. No need to wait for the squash to cook before you can get started on the risotto. Roasting in the oven will save you a lot of time. By the time the squash is roasted (about 30 minutes), your risotto will be close to ready. You’ll simply fold the sweet, cooked squash into the risotto at the very end.
I love the sweetness and heartiness of this vegan butternut squash risotto. It’s not a light risotto: the squash is substantial, as is the risotto itself. But if something deeply nourishing and flavorful is what you’re after, this is it.
And the nice thing about good risotto is that you don’t have to season it heavily, or even very creatively. A little white wine, garlic, onion, and shallot (which I think adds flavor beyond the onion), is more than enough. If you like, you can add some chopped sage at the end of cooking. The risotto will be creamy and comforting whether you do or don’t.
I’ve often read that risotto should be served as soon as possible and should never be made in advance. It’s true that risotto leftovers tend to become dense and stick together.
Honestly, though? I think risotto leftovers taste great. They don’t have all the wonderful, creamy, loose texture of risotto that’s freshly cooked. But they have a toothsome heartiness and stick-to-your-ribs quality that’s lovely in a different way. They remind me of so many of my favorite rice dishes: my creamy brown rice with shiitakes and peas, my lemon dill zucchini rice, or my creamy chick’n rice skillet supper. All starchy and satisfying. All good.
So, once you make the vegan butternut squash risotto, feel free to store it for up to four days in an airtight container in the fridge. The leftovers won’t taste quite the same, but they’ll taste pretty great.
This risotto makes for a lovely winter dinner. A simple green salad or sautéed leafy greens are all you need to turn it into a complete meal.
As school fires up, I’m going to feel gratitude for every night on which I have an hour or more to cook. Meals like risotto won’t be an option for much longer, but for as long as they are, I’ll savor them.