Kabocha Squash Risotto with Crispy Pancetta

Finished dish - kabocha squash risotto

Winter is a wonderful time to hunt for interesting fresh fruits and vegetables. Cabbage, its cousin kale, and cauliflower are all over the markets. All manner of root vegetables, including multi-colored carrots, potatoes, and beets catch the eye. Citrus is at its peak, and if you can nab persimmons for salads and desserts, do it!

The king of all this is squash. There are so many types of squash available that you can spend all winter dreaming up interesting recipes to cook.

Kabocha (not to be confused with the drink Kombucha) is a wonderful variety of squash with an earthy taste similar to pumpkin. It is more complex than the ubiquitous butternut squash frequently used in risotto and it has the bonus of having an edible skin. Weighing usually about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds each, this squash is a lot easier to store, cut, and handle than bigger butternut squash or pumpkins.

Kabocha is used a lot in Japanese cookery including for tempura, vegetable side dishes and hot pots. Here, I’ve adapted it for that great Italian dish—risotto! The addition of crispy pancetta and grated Parmesan cheese completes that perfect umami taste.

You can find kabocha squash in most supermarkets, but in the late fall and early winter, look for the freshest ones at local farmers markets or Japanese grocery stores.

Halved and cleaned kabocha squash

The first step in this recipe is to roast the squash. Roasting kabocha squash makes a super fast and easy side dish for your weeknight dinners. Roast it on a baking sheet with parchment paper for easy clean up. You can add some honey, curry powder or chili powder to give it some zing!

sheet pan roasted kabocha squash
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Kabocha Squash Risotto with Crispy Pancetta


  • Author: Joe
  • Yield: 2 servings 1x

Ingredients

Scale
  • 1/2 kabocha squash, sliced as indicated in instructions – reserve other half for another use
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cups good quality chicken broth, preferably home made
  • 4 ounces pancetta
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 3/4 cup risotto rice, Arborio or Carnaroli
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

Roast the squash

  • Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
  • To cut the squash, place it on a stable cutting board with stem or bottom side down (whichever is the least wobbly). With a sharp chef’s knife, cut through the stem or bottom end to cut the squash in half. Wrap and reserve half for another use. Use a tablespoon to scoop out the seeds and fibers from the side you will use. Place the squash cut-side down on the cutting board. Cut into 8 segments using radial cuts from stem to bottom.
  • Prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Put the squash segments in a medium bowl and add a splash of olive oil and pinch of salt and pepper. Toss in the bowl until the squash is coated. Pour the squash out on to the prepared baking sheet.
  • Roast for about 30 minutes. Check after 20 minutes and cook until the squash is golden in color with a few blisters starting to form. Set aside to cool.

Prepare the risotto

  • In a medium pot, heat the broth till boiling and then reduce to low. Add salt to taste. The broth should be as salty as you like chicken soup.
  • Into different bowls, dice the onion and pancetta and set aside. With 4 segments of the roasted squash, using a teaspoon, scoop the pulp into a small bowl. Add a little broth and stir until the squash is the consistency of baby food and set aside. With the other 4 segments, cut into bitesized pieces keeping the skin intact and set aside.
  • For this 2-serving recipe, place an 8-inch high-sided sauté pan over low heat (if you double this recipe, use a bigger pan). Add the diced pancetta and very slowly render, stirring occasionally. Cook until the pancetta is crispy all over. Remove the cooked pancetta to a small bowl leaving the accumulated fat and brown bits in the pan.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan over medium-low heat. Add the diced onion along with a pinch of salt and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and mix into the onions. Stir until the rice turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Then add the white wine. The pan should sizzle. Stir the mixture, loosening all the brown bits from the pancetta. Cook until the wine has almost evaporated.
  • Now begin to add the chicken stock, a small ladle (about a 1/4-cup) at a time. Stir the risotto until the stock is mostly absorbed before you add another, being careful not to dry or burn the center of the pan.
  • About midway through adding the stock, add the squash puree. Stir in as you would the stock until absorbed. Continue adding the stock until the rice is creamy. (You may have leftover stock).
  • Add the butter and stir into the risotto until melted and incorporated. Then add 1/2 of the Parmesan cheese. a grind of pepper and incorporate. Remove from heat and then gently stir in the diced squash.
  • Serve in bowls topped with some of  the pancetta and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Notes

Equipment needed:

  • Baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper
  • 8-inch high sided sauté pan

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