Saffron intensifies golden-hued butternut squash

A recent photo on my Instagram page celebrated the return of butternut-squash season with a mushroom-laden risotto.

If the golden-hued vegetable wasn’t enough eye candy, its pairing with saffron is as striking as photos viewed through the social-media platform’s “filters.” And coincidentally, it’s also saffron season, in my garden at least. While I always think of crocuses as some of spring’s first harbingers, the stamens of this blossom are almost ready to harvest in gardens at this latitude.

High-quality, dried saffron threads are widely available these days and not nearly so costly as in decades past. Happily, an ounce of this spice long considered more valuable than gold goes a long way. Steep it in a few tablespoons of hot water to get extra mileage from saffron in a variety of recipes, such as this one from Tribune News Service. Add both the threads and infused water to your dish.

Tribune News Service photo

Saffron Risotto With Butternut Squash and Fried Sage

1 butternut squash (2 pounds)

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

6 cups chicken stock

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

2 shallots, peeled and finely minced

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup hard cider

1 teaspoon saffron threads

20 fresh sage leaves

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Peel the butternut squash, remove seeds, and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. Place squash on a sheet pan and toss it with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Place in a bowl and set aside.

While squash is roasting, 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 shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes until translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat grains with butter. Add the cider and cook for 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup stock to rice along with the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Stir and simmer until stock is absorbed, for 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring every few minutes. Continue until rice is cooked through but still al dente, for about 30 minutes total.

While risotto is cooking, fry the sage. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add sage, toss to coat, and fry until leaves are darker green and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-covered plate and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside.

When risotto is done cooking (it will be creamy and slightly firm to the bite), add roasted squash and the Parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve at once in warm bowls topped with fried sage leaves.

Makes 6 servings.

— Recipe adapted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from

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