Cumin and Saffron Flavored Butternut Squash Risotto

Cumin and Saffron Flavored Butternut Squash Risotto Recipe

If Fall had a flavor, it would be butternut squash. I know pumpkins are the symbol of Halloween, and sweet potatoes are a staple of Thanksgiving meals, but to me, nothing compares to the earthy sweetness and versatility of butternut squash. It works perfectly in salads, soups, side dishes, and, in the case of this risotto, as a main course.

To prepare this dish, I just diced and roasted some butternut squash and mixed it with a pot of risotto I infused with saffron. It's a simple, no frills preparation that really highlights the flavor and texture of the butternut squash.


Yields: 6 servings

1 (2-pound) butternut squash
1/2 tablespoon molasses
1/2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
3/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 shallots, finely minced
1 cup melon-seed shaped pasta
2 cups Arborio rice
6-1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, warm
1/2 cup parmesan cheese powder (see tips)
2 tablespoons dill, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons mushroom seasoning salt
1 teaspoon white pepper, freshly ground
2 teaspoons pumpkin seeds, slightly toasted


Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Peel and dice the butternut squash into 1-1/2-inch cubes. In a bowl, toss the diced butternut squash in molasses, light corn syrup, salt, a tablespoon of olive oil, cumin powder and paprika.

Brush a baking sheet with olive oil. Place the butternut squash pieces without crowding them. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until slightly browned and softened.

In a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads. Add about 1/4 cup of water. Reserve about a tablespoon of the resulting liquid.

In a deep saucepan, sauté the minced garlic cloves in the remaining oil until golden. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and add the shallots; stir until light golden. Add the pasta and rice. The butter should coat all the grains. Add 1 cup of warm broth and the saffron liquid. Stir constantly.

After bringing the liquid to a boil, add parmesan cheese powder and lower the heat to medium-low for about 15 to 20 minutes. Season with mushroom powder and a tablespoon of dill. Check the liquid and periodically add 1/4 cup of stock when all the liquid is absorbed. Let simmer for another 15 minutes.

When the rice is almost cooked, add the butternut squash, remaining saffron liquid and the rest of the butter. Adjust the seasoning with more salt (if necessary) and pepper. Let sit for about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle more dill and toasted pumpkin seeds and serve immediately.

Bon appétit!


If you like other types of cuisine, check out the Indian equivalent to risotto called biryani. It's saffron-flavored basmati rice. You can also check out the Asian equivalent with Cantonese-style fried rice.

I find the starchiness of the pasta adds more creaminess to the risotto. The most similar shaped pasta to Arborio rice is the melon-seed shaped one. I buy the Mexican brand, El Mexicano "Semillas". It's sold in a 7-ounce package. If you don't have any, you can always use orzo pasta or simply use only Arborio rice.

To obtain parmesan cheese powder, finely chop a chunk of parmesan and place the pieces in a mini food processor to obtain a fine powder. I add it right after boiling the broth for flavor but I don't find the addition of more parmesan cheese necessary when serving. The sweetness of the butternut squash is enough to flavor the dish.

Coating each grain in butter prevents them from sticking to one another.

For a healthier (and vegan) version, substitute olive oil for the butter.

I lowered the salt because I added mushroom powder which is already salty. You can find mushroom powder, in specialty stores such as Whole Foods.

You can also use chicken broth, which is actually the more standard way to prepare risotto. My hubby is a vegetarian so I use vegetable broth.

It's important to add the warm liquid in stages to ensure a homogenous cooking of the Arborio rice. Watch your risotto closely!

Saffron is quite expensive; I usually get it at a more reasonable price at the Indian market. It gives the rice a yellow hue and a nice aroma.

saffron risotto recipe

saffron recipe with picture

It's important to pour ladlefuls of warm stock. The key is to incrementally pour the liquid and never let the dish dry out, or the rice would burn at the bottom.

For this dish, I used exactly 6-1/2 cups of broth. The quantity of liquid may vary depending on the heat of the stove and how long you're cooking the rice. At the end, I let it simmer uncovered, sometimes adding another 1/4 cup of liquid until I achieve the right consistency and level of doneness. I like the rice al dente, not mushy.

The dish is finished with some toasted pumpkin seeds to add some crunch and keep the theme of the dish.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on October 10, 2009.


[-] Fabulous - Guest-VeggieGirl
That dish truly captures the essence of autumn flavors - yum!

VeggieGirl Website Link
[ Posted at 5:19 AM on 10/10/09 | Reply ]
I would much rather have butternut squash over pumpkin (though sweet potatoes are hard to beat!) This dish looks like the best part of autumn - warm colors and satisfying. Thanks for the tip about mixing risotto and pasta for a creamier texture - I can't wait to try it!

Tangled Noodle Website Link
[ Posted at 7:39 AM on 10/10/09 | Reply ]
wow..flavors are perfect for the season and this even better than restaurant quality!

ravenouscouple Website Link
[ Posted at 8:35 AM on 10/10/09 | Reply ]
That looks fabulous! The cumin and saffron must add so much flavor to the squash. I don't like pumpkin, but I love butternut squash and it's a perfect fall vegetable.

Palidor Website Link
[ Posted at 8:40 AM on 10/10/09 | Reply ]
What a fabulous fall risotto and I love the saffron you added! Cumin is one of my favorite spices too.

Kerstin Website Link
[ Posted at 10:36 AM on 10/10/09 | Reply ]
[-] Beautiful dish! - Guest-Mags
Jackie, that is some lovely looking risotto. Thanks for dropping by my blog and for inviting me to visit yours. You have such wonderful photos.

Mags Website Link
[ Posted at 4:03 PM on 10/10/09 | Reply ]
What a fab risotto!! Looks so lovely!!

Very Autumnly!!!

Sophie Website Link
[ Posted at 1:35 AM on 10/11/09 | Reply ]
[-] yummy and nutritious - Guest-OysterCulture
this just looks like fall as you say, cannot wait to try the tasty combination that you developed here.

OysterCulture Website Link
[ Posted at 8:59 AM on 10/12/09 | Reply ]
[-] Nice job! - Guest-Hillary
When I made butternut squash risotto, it did not look this good! :)

Hillary Website Link
[ Posted at 9:05 AM on 10/12/09 | Reply ]

Order my latest book:
Banh Mi

Related Posts


Recent Posts

15 Fall Dessert Recipes for Dinner Parties
15 Fall Dessert Recipes for Dinner Parties
Soyrizo Mushroom Patties
Soyrizo Mushroom Patties
Mango Salsa Appetizers
Mango Salsa Appetizers
Turkey Noodle Stir Fry Recipe
Turkey Noodle Stir Fry Recipe