The Chardonnay grape is a popular varietal in California, both in the vineyards and in people’s glasses. Probably one of the main reasons for its popularity is its ability to play so well with different foods. Chardonnays can have a range of light flavors consisting of citrus notes to subtleties of apple or pear. It’s balanced with a kick of acidity and the mellow rounding-out of its flavor by being aged in oak barrels. This combination makes Chardonnay an ideal feature ingredient for making risotto. A traditional Italian dish, risotto is creamy rice infused with the flavor of its cooking liquid, usually a combination of wine and broth. The high starch content of the Arborio rice is what provides the thickened, rich sauce that gives risotto its signature consistency. The trick behind risotto is to keep mixing the rice to develop this creaminess, so while it’s a dish that requires constant babysitting, your efforts are most certainly rewarded in flavor and texture. To complement the light, fruity tones of a Chardonnay, the natural sweetness of butternut squash is used, and the earthy tones of chanterelle mushrooms echo the oak barrel ageing of the wine. The squash imparts a golden hue to the finished dish, complementing the flavors grown and raised in the Golden State.
Butternut Squash and Wild Mushroom Chardonnay Risotto
4 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (about 1 small, 1.5 lb butternut squash, seeded)
2 cups roughly chopped chanterelle mushrooms or sliced button or cremini mushrooms
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup finely diced onion
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 cups Arborio rice
1.5 cups California Chardonnay of your choice
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 tablespoon of canola oil (for roasting squash)
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated or shaved Parmesan to garnish
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley to garnish
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Take the cubed butternut squash and lightly toss with canola oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper before spreading across an oiled baking sheet. Bake the squash for 15 to 20 minutes, turning with a spatula to ensure they don’t stick to baking sheet and remove when fork-tender and lightly browned. Set aside.
In a medium-sized pot, bring the broth to a simmer and then keep the burner set to low, to maintain the broth’s heat.
On a nearby burner, set a large saucepan on medium-low. Melt the butter in the saucepan and sauté the onion and garlic cloves until translucent, but not browned. Add in the chopped wild mushrooms and continue to stir, until the mushrooms give off most of their liquid. Add the spices and the Arborio rice and raise the burner heat to medium-high. Stir constantly for about a minute until the rice is coated with the butter, and then slowly add the wine in small amounts, continuing to stir constantly as each increment of wine is absorbed by the rice.
Use a ladle to add in about 1/4 cup of the broth into the rice and mushroom mix. Continue to stir the rice, allowing each addition of the broth to be fully absorbed. Keep adding the broth until half of it remains, and then add the roasted squash. Continue to ladle in the broth, stirring the rice and allowing the broth to absorb. This process should take about 18 to 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. The finished consistency of the rice should be creamy, with the rice maintaining a slightly firm, al dente texture.
Serve the risotto right after it’s made, either as a side dish or an entrée. Ladle into a bowl and garnish with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and Parmesan shavings.