Butternut squash, pancetta and blue cheese risotto

I’m writing this the night before we go to Paris (eeeee!) and that’s not just a humble brag, it’s relevant in that it explains why I even considered using a half-used tub of Waitrose butternut squash soup to make this risotto: it was part of my ceremonial fridge-clear-out-before-a-holiday. I can’t bear to throw stuff away. But with a mish-mash of said soup, a bit of old blue cheese, pancetta chunks and some ‘fresh’ herbs that had seen better days, I wasn’t particularly hopeful about bringing them together. I needed something else to make our last meal before boarding the Eurostar a bit more substantial. Enter: risotto rice.

When I posted the soup-in-risotto thing on Instagram Stories, I had loads of replies (don’t you hate when someone says ‘loads’ of replies and you’re just sat there like, I never get ‘loads’ of replies, I bet you got one you big fat liar, and so I will tell you I got three, but that felt like a lot to a small-shot like me) asking WTF!? Does it go in in place of wine? Isn’t it a bit, well, soup-y? Are you mad!? It does not replace the wine – you still add at least a glass first, after getting the rice nice and translucent – it’s just a nice extra. I often purée some veggies to put into risotto, so I figured this was a similar thing. It’s not soup-like at all because 1. Have you seen Waitrose’s soups lately? They’re so silky and thick, it’s not even that much like soup. Plus, you cook it for long enough for it to just be a little bit saucy and combined. And, yep, I’m balmy.

I thoroughly recommend giving this risotto recipe a go even if you’re not at the bin-ends of your weekly shop. Screw it, buy the Waitrose soup with the sole intention of putting it in your risotto! (Other supermarkets are available but let’s face it, you can’t beat Waity R). It’s creamy but not too heavy and the salty pancetta and blue cheese (I recommend Yorkshire blue or Roquefort; something strong but sticky rather than crumbly) really cut through it.

Serves 4

You’ll need:

Butter

Olive oil

200g risotto rice

1 large white onion, diced

1 bulb garlic – remove all the cloves, peel and dice

1 large glass white wine

50g cubed pancetta

500ml chicken stock

150g Parmesan

50g blue cheese

300g Waitrose butternut squash & tarragon soup

A little water

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Add a knob of butter and a generous drizzle of olive oil to a hot pan, then turn down the heat and sauté the diced onion (with a touch of salt and pepper) for 5-8 minutes. You want it to become soft but not brown. If it starts browning, turn the heat down. Then add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more – again, avoid letting it brown.

Next, in goes the risotto rice. If the pan is dry and the rice is sticking too much, don’t be afraid to loosen it up with olive oil or a little more butter. Stir every minute or so for 5 minutes or until the rice grains are translucent at the edges.

Turn the heat to medium. Add the wine, a glug at a time, and stir each one in properly. Let it absorb, then add another, stir and wait for it to be sucked up. Repeat until the wine is gone. Then, make some space in the middle of the pan and pour in the pancetta. I like to make a space so that it can crisp up a little against the pan rather than sort of cook/boil in amongst all the rice and excess liquid. It creates a nice porky oil that can then be stirred around the rest of the pan.

Once the pancetta is cooked, give everything a good stir and then add the chicken stock in a similar fashion to the wine.

Once all the stock has been absorbed add the Parmesan, stir well, then add the soup. Looking a bit thick? You can always add more water.

Let the risotto sit for 10-20 minutes, adding the blue cheese 5 minutes before you serve and stirring it in well, along with a tablespoon of butter, which you should just place in the centre and let melt with the lid / large plate covering the pan.

Serve with a little more blue cheese if you want, any fresh herbs you’ve got knocking about – think tarragon, rosemary – and a load of fresh cracked black pepper. I like a drizzle of something at the end too – truffle oil, chilli oil or just plain ol’ olive oil if it’s good quality.

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Freelance writer, eater, drinker and cook living in London.

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