What’s the Key to a Savory Winter Squash Risotto with Crispy Sage?

As the seasons grow colder, appetites seem to turn toward heartier, more warming meals. Winter comfort food often means dishes that are rich, flavorful, and most importantly, satisfying. One such dish is the savory winter squash risotto with crispy sage, an Italian classic that brings together the creaminess of risotto rice, the sweet butternut squash, and the unique flavor of sage in a harmony of taste and texture.

Selecting the Best Ingredients

Choosing the best ingredients is the first step to making a savory winter squash risotto with crispy sage. Let’s delve into what you should look for when selecting your main ingredients: squash, risotto rice, and sage.

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Squash: Butternut squash is a popular choice for this risotto recipe. Look for a squash that is heavy for its size, with a smooth, unblemished skin. The flesh should be bright orange, a sign that it is ripe and flavorful.

Risotto Rice: The type of rice you choose for your risotto can significantly affect the texture and flavor of your dish. Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone Nano are the most commonly used varieties. They are starchy short-grain rice varieties that absorb broth well and create a creamy risotto without becoming mushy.

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Sage: When selecting sage, choose fresh leaves that are soft yet crisp. They should be a vibrant green color without any brown spots or signs of wilting. Remember, sage is very potent, so you don’t need a lot to achieve a robust flavor.

Cooking the Perfect Risotto

Preparing risotto requires patience and a keen eye for detail. Begin by heating up a pot and adding oil and butter. Oil helps prevent the butter from burning, while butter contributes to the rich flavor of the dish. Once heated, add chopped onions and garlic and sauté until translucent.

Next, add the Arborio rice into the pot and stir continuously. This step is crucial as it helps to toast the rice and release its starch, which ultimately gives risotto its characteristic creamy texture.

Then, start adding warm broth to the rice, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly. It’s important to add the broth gradually and stir continuously to allow the rice to absorb the liquid and cook evenly.

Incorporating Butternut Squash

Butternut squash lends a subtle sweetness to the risotto and makes it heartier. To incorporate it, start by peeling and dicing the squash. Next, add it to the pot after sautéing the onions and let it cook until it starts to soften.

This step should take about 10 minutes. Then proceed with adding the rice and broth as usual. When the risotto is almost done, the squash should be tender but not mushy.

Remember, butternut squash has high sugar content, so it can burn easily. Therefore, moderate heat is essential when cooking the squash to ensure it softens without caramelizing.

Finishing Touches: Cheese, Butter, and Crispy Sage

Once the risotto is creamy and the rice grains are tender but still have some bite to them, it’s time for the finishing touches: cheese, butter, and crispy sage.

Adding butter at the end of cooking is a process known as "mantecatura" in Italian cooking. This process gives the risotto a rich, creamy texture. Add a generous knob of butter and stir it into the risotto until it melts completely.

Then, add grated Parmesan cheese. The cheese should melt into the risotto, adding another layer of creaminess and a subtle nutty flavor.

Finally, heat oil in a small pan, add sage leaves and cook until they’re crispy. The crispy sage not only adds a crunch to the creamy risotto but also a distinct, warming flavor that complements the sweetness of the squash and the creaminess of the rice perfectly.

Tips for Serving and Enjoying Your Risotto

Now that your savory winter squash risotto with crispy sage is ready, it’s time to serve it up. Risotto should be served immediately while still hot and creamy. Top each serving with extra Parmesan and a few crispy sage leaves for an appealing presentation and a burst of flavor.

Enjoying risotto is all about savoring each bite. The creamy rice, sweet squash, and crispy sage come together to create a dish that is rich and hearty, perfect for a cold winter’s day. Pair it with a crisp white wine to balance the richness of the dish and enhance the flavors.

Remember, cooking is not just about following recipes. It’s about exploring flavors, experimenting with ingredients, and most importantly, enjoying the process. So, don’t be afraid to put your own twist on this classic Italian dish. Happy cooking!

Achieving the Optimum Flavor with an Instant Pot

Using an instant pot can be a game-changer for your squash risotto recipe as it simplifies the cooking process and ensures the flavors blend together perfectly. To adapt the recipe for an instant pot, follow the same initial steps of sautéing the onions, garlic, and butternut squash in a mixture of butter and olive oil. Then, add Arborio rice and let it toast for a couple of minutes.

Instead of adding warm broth gradually, you will pour in all the vegetable broth at once. Stir well and secure the lid of your instant pot. Set the valve to sealing and cook on high pressure for about 6 minutes. After the time is up, carefully do a quick pressure release.

Once you have released the pressure, open the lid and stir the risotto. You will find the Arborio rice perfectly cooked, with a creamy texture from the released starch. At this point, you can proceed with adding the butter, Parmesan cheese, and finally, the crispy sage.

Cooking with an instant pot can save you time and effort, but remember to adjust the cooking time based on your specific model and personal preference for risotto’s consistency.

Enhancements with Roasted Butternut Squash and Brown Butter Sage

For an upscale twist on the classic recipe, consider roasting the butternut squash and making a brown butter sage sauce. To roast the squash, peel and dice it, then toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the pieces on a baking sheet and roast in a preheated oven until they are tender and have a caramelized edge.

To make brown butter sage, heat unsalted butter in a skillet over medium heat, swirling it occasionally. Once the butter turns a toasty brown color, turn off the heat and add fresh sage leaves. The heat from the butter will crisp up the sage, and the sage, in turn, will infuse the butter with its distinctive flavor.

Mix the roasted butternut squash into the risotto after it’s cooked, then drizzle the brown butter sage over each serving. If you’re vegan or dairy-free, substitute the butter with a plant-based alternative and use vegan Parmesan.


Savoring a plate of creamy squash risotto with crispy sage on a cold winter day is an experience that transcends the ordinary. The blend of sweet butternut squash, creamy Arborio rice, and crispy sage creates an explosion of flavors that satisfies the palate and warms the soul.

Remember, the key to a perfect risotto lies in choosing high-quality ingredients, maintaining a steady hand during the cooking process, and adding personal touches that elevate the dish. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques and flavors. Whether you choose to cook your risotto in an instant pot for convenience or enhance it with roasted squash and brown butter sage for a gourmet touch, the joy lies in the creation process and the satisfaction derived from a delicious meal. So pour yourself a glass of crisp white wine, roll up your sleeves, and happy cooking!