The older we get, the fewer fresh starts life grants us. When we are children, new milestones come around every corner. Driver’s license, graduation, college, choosing a career, finding a partner, settling down—one change after another in quick succession and then, not much but the slow work of nurturing all the things you planted. The challenge of adulthood is to stay the course when the course doesn’t seem to change. It’s why I unapologetically love the New Year for the gift of starting anew.
Cynics point to the statistics on the dismal success rate of New Year’s resolutions; I agree with them. We fail, and we have failed, and we will fail again. What matters is trying. It takes hope and vision to resolve anything, to imagine a better version of your life and step toward making it real. Maybe you stumble, but isn’t movement better than inertia?
Resolutions about the way we eat are common this time of year, and no wonder—anything that touches our lives multiple times a day has the power to shape it significantly. If you count yourself among those who have decided to cook more at home, or eat more healthfully, or reduce your meat consumption, or even just find yourself more present in your work, let a recipe for oven-baked butternut squash risotto be a New Year’s gift to you. The prep is limited. The technique is simple, no constant stirring. The flavors are deep and warming, satisfying on that soul-comfort level. Plate it in a shallow bowl and top with fried sage: a portrait of progress.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO WITH SAGE //
5 Tbs. olive oil, divided
8 oz. mixed mushrooms, torn
1 bunch fresh sage, leaves removed
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable broth, divided
1 cup water
1 ½ cups Arborio / short-grain rice
1 medium butternut squash (about 3 lbs.), peeled and sliced into ½-in. cubes
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup dry white wine
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, diced
1 tsp. salt, more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Red pepper flakes, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Toss the cubed butternut squash with 2 tablespoons olive oil on your baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and arrange the butternut in a single layer on the pan. Roast on the upper rack until the butternut is fork-tender and the edges are deeply caramelized, tossing halfway, about 50–60 minutes.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add mushrooms and let cook, undisturbed, until golden brown and crispy on one side. Stir to turn and finish cooking the other side. Season with salt and transfer mushrooms to a bowl for later.
3. In the same Dutch oven, add another tablespoon of olive oil and the onions. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook 1–2 minutes.
4. Add the rice and stir to coat, cooking for 1 minute. Pour in 3 cups of broth and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover the pot and bake on the lower rack of the oven until rice is tender and cooked through, about 35–40 minutes.
5. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the sage leaves and toss to coat. Let the sage get darker green and crispy, about 3 seconds, before transferring to a paper towel-lined plate. Season fried sage lightly with salt and set aside.
6. Remove the squash and Dutch oven from the oven. Pour in the remaining cup of broth, Parmesan, wine, and butter. Stir vigorously for 2–3 minutes, until the rice is thick and creamy. Stir in the salt, a generous amount of pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir in the roasted butternut. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper, as needed.
7. Divide the risotto into bowls and top each with a generous spoonful of crispy mushrooms and fried sage leaves.
Photograph by Jivan Davé