Saffron

One of the most golden moments in my life took place in Vegas. (I know, you too.) We were finishing an absolutely divine meal at RM Seafood. The food was incredible, and we got to meet RM (Rick Moonen) to boot. Yum. Go there.

While all of our food was extraordinary, the most amazing moment came during dessert. They do this totally fun ice cream taste test with 16 tiny cups of wild flavors you’d never dream of in ice cream form. Think: balsamic vinegar, sour cream, garlic, avocado. Not necessarily flavors you want to eat, but it sure is fun testing your palette and reaching for a taste that you know so well, yet can’t put your finger on. Of course the competitor in me got fierce. My memorable moment came when I correctly identified a mysterious flavor that was stumping our table. In an instant: saffron! Fortunately our waiter was walking by at the moment I blurted it out, and if he wasn’t actually impressed, he was a darn good actor. Saffron!

So of course whenever I think of saffron now, I feel like a champion and think of ice cream. But since the attractive nuisance barely ever gets ice cream for dessert now let alone dinner, I had to find another recipe. Good thing I had a butternut squash lying around. And from the look on his face, you’d think the attractive nuisance thought he really was eating ice cream. Barefoot Contessa to the rescue again!

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Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash (Barefoot Contessa)

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash (2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.

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