Confession time: until I made this creamy risotto dish I’d never purchased or even used a vanilla bean before. I know — total baking blasphemy! Last month, after I read Amanda Hesser’s book, Cooking for Mr. Latte, I really wanted to bake the Vanilla Bean Loaves. Especially since they were based on a recipe from the High-Rise Bread Company right here in Cambridge. Unfortunately, the sticker shock of purchasing all of the vanilla beans needed to make something that I might not even like bordered on the ridiculous. So back on the shelf went those little dainty Whole Foods bottles, and off I went to find cheaper treasures, like Maple Wallaby Yogurts.
Inevitably though, as chance would have it, I became mesmerized with a Giada De Laurentiis recipe that called for the simple addition of a vanilla bean. This caused me to completely cave to my inner need for gourmet greed. A quick stop by Williams-Sonoma on my way home was all it took. Afterwards, I felt strangely satisfied knowing that my tiny vial containing two skinny black pods would soon become a “secret ingredient” in that evening’s dinner. The bean didn’t let me down. The hint of vanilla played off the sweetness of the squash nicely. I was a little worried that it might taste too much like rice pudding, but that definitely wasn’t the case. In the end I actually cooked some spicy turkey sausage and crumbled it into the risotto for a little extra protein, and I absolutely loved being able to see the small dots of fragrant vanilla decorating the squash and rice.
Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto (Originally published by Giada De Laurentiis)
4 cups vegetable broth (Note: I used low sodium chicken broth)
1 large vanilla bean
3 cups peeled cubed (1-inch wide) butternut squash, about 12 ounces
2 tablespoons butter, plus 1 tablespoon
3/4 cups finely chopped onion (from 1 onion)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives (Note: I used thyme)
In a medium saucepan, warm the broth over medium-high heat. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and add them, and the bean, to the broth. When the broth comes to a simmer reduce the heat to low. Add the butternut squash to the simmering broth and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. (Note: I actually cooked my squash cubes for about 15 minutes. It took quite a while for them to become tender.) Using a slotted spoon remove the butternut squash to a side dish. Turn the heat on the broth down to very low and cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, in a large, heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until tender but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition to of the broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total. Discard the vanilla bean. Turn off the heat. Gently stir in the butternut squash, Parmesan, the remaining tablespoon of butter, and salt. Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl and sprinkle with chives (Note: or thyme). Serve immediately.