Risotto with Butternut Squash and Sage

5 from 1 vote


When I first heard about the October: Unprocessed challenge a few weeks ago, I had already embarked on something similar for September.  For no real reason at all, other than to give myself a challenge in the kitchen, I embarked on a 30-day vegan stint. Just because I could.

Oh sure, I’d hoped that I would enjoy health benefits from it — I did lose 8 pounds that I needed to lose — and I was curious about what my vegan friends ate. I’ve spent my entire adult life using vegetables and legumes as accompaniments to meat, rather than as the star of the show. So, I honestly wanted to educate myself in the world of wonderment that can be found all over farmer’s markets and produce stands. I wanted to eat more raw food, but also learn to cook with minimal, fresh ingredients, without relying on meat products of any kind.

Strangely, it was actually a big hit, not just with me, but with my family (happy carnivores) and an impromptu vegan dinner party with friends. There was not one meal that we didn’t all rave about. I’m quite proud to have proven not only to myself, but to others, that meat doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of all cuisine.

Now that we’re well into October now, I am admittedly doing a lot of the same things as I did in September — picking out fresh ingredients, poring over recipes, jotting down meal ideas, and reading labels — so I thought October: Unprocessed would be easy.

So far, it’s been about as challenging as a carnivore trying to eat vegan, which is to say: Difficult.

For me, “unprocessed” means to eat things that do not have preservatives, additives, food dyes, and other such shelf-life-extension ingredients or beautification chemicals to them. If they have ingredients that are identifiable as items that I would have in my kitchen, and they are recognized in their current form as “food,” then I will eat it.

I noticed that several things I’ve enjoyed eating this year are indeed processed, including my beloved almond milk. As someone who is lactose intolerant, I substitute almond milk in cereal (also processed), baking, and smoothies. Very distressing to notice that it contained calcium carbonate and potassium citrate, not to mention carrageenan, soy lecithin, and something called D-alpha-tocopherol, which is apparently natural vitamin E. (Why do they need to add vitamin E?!)

Other things that I’m foregoing this month include carbonated beverages and all store-bought condiments — ketchup, mustard, dill pickles, cheese, salsa, mayonnaise, and so on. Other processed foods in my kitchen are items such as commercial bread, pretzels, granola, energy bars, saltine crackers, my favorite enchilada sauce, packaged ham, and commercial bouillon. Even something like canned tuna, which has totally recognizable ingredients, is clearly so processed that it’s unrecognizable as a quality piece of fish. So, that’s out, too.

I want to eat whole, recognizable foods, and put them together in some form myself, not by some food manufacturer, then shelved in the grocery store for questionable amounts of time.

I like this challenge. In just a few days’ time, it’s opened my eyes to the things we eat in addition to our standard edibles: chemicals, additives, and a whole host of ingredients that need an ingredient dictionary to decipher. They may be good, or they may be bad, but are they food? I hope that this month of cooking and eating will give all of us more respect for how our food gets to our tables and what we are putting into our bodies.

Here is a great recipe I made recently from all natural, unprocessed ingredients. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

5 from 1 vote

Risotto with Butternut Squash and Sage

By: Jackie Baisa
This all natural, unprocessed dish is sure to make your mouth water as you are making this tasty meal.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 4 servings


  • 1 Butternut Squash, halved, seeds removed, and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Freshly ground Black Pepper
  • 2 Shallots, minced
  • 5 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 cups Arborio Rice*
  • 5-1/2 cups Vegetable Stock, homemade, or an organic store-bought variety without preservatives
  • 1-1/2 cups White Wine, or, if that’s too “processed” for your taste, use 1-1/2 cups hot water and 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly chopped Sage


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the squash pieces on a non-stick baking sheet or baking liner. Toss in olive oil, then lightly salt and pepper them.
  • Roast for approximately 25 minutes, or until squash is tender and just starting to brown. Set one half of the squash aside.
  • Take the other half of the squash and put into a blender with the white wine or hot water with lemon. Purée the mixture and set aside.
  • In a large pot, heat vegetable stock to boiling.
  • In a heavy saucepan, heat olive oil and sauté the shallots and garlic until translucent, but not brown. Stir in the Arborio rice and stir to coat the rice with oil. Slowly add in the broth, one cup at a time. As the rice has mostly absorbed it (about 5 minutes), add more. After about 20 minutes, add in the pureed squash and wine mixture, and the sage. Let the rice cook and absorb that. If you need more liquid, add more of the stock. Cook the rice until al dente, about 30 minutes.
  • Stir in the pieces of roasted squash and remove from heat. Garnish with a sprig of fresh sage.


* A note from Andrew: I asked Jackie if there was a whole grain we could use instead of the Arborio Rice (which I’m sure would offend the Risotto purists out there). She suggested substituting it with about 1 cup of Quinoa — and shortening the cooking time by half. If you give that a try, please let us know how it turns out!


Calories: 223kcal, Carbohydrates: 48g, Protein: 4g, Sodium: 598mg, Potassium: 767mg, Fiber: 5g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 20305IU, Vitamin C: 41.8mg, Calcium: 121mg, Iron: 3mg
Like this recipe? Rate and comment below!


About the Author

Jackie Baisa is a food and event photographer based out of Seattle. She shares a few thoughts on going vegan for a month, what eating “Unprocessed” means to her, and a beautiful Risotto with Butternut Squash and Sage recipe. You can find more of her recipes, photos, and culinary essays on her blog, www.jackiewrites.com.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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October 8, 2010 11:30 am

Just found this site! It’s great!

I just discovered (by trying) that you can use short grain brown rice to make risotto. You need a little more liquid and it will take longer. I make my risotto in a pressure cooker, which means 18 mins instead of 5 mins for arborio.

October 6, 2010 8:09 pm

I’ve never made risotto before…is Arborio Rice processed? Also, where can I get relatively inexpensive vegetable stock without preservatives and additives? I want to give this recipe a try; I have a squash sitting on my counter!

Reply to  Nimisha
October 7, 2010 3:32 pm

Nimisha, try Trader Joe’s if you have access to one. They have VERY inexpensive vegetable stock in a box, with only natural and totally recognizable ingredients. If not there, try a health food store, but it might not be “cheap”.

October 6, 2010 5:00 pm

Jackie, it’s just amazing to me that you just up and went vegan. So cool. I would love to try this risotto with barley, like some others have said. What a fun idea. On the tuna front, what about canned salmon from Loki? I picked some up from Ballard Farmers’ Market on Sunday. Haven’t had it yet, but looking forward to it.

October 6, 2010 1:46 pm

Risotto is a delicious comfort food. I love that this is so seasonal – perfect for the cooler weather and I love butternut!

October 6, 2010 10:45 am

Hello Andrew and Jackie!! Beautiful risotto and so appealing on a rainy day (yeah, who says it never rains in So Cal!) Wanted to weigh in on your question about the “additives” to your Almond Milk!! The short answer to your question ” is it food”? Is “yes” it is food. All food is made up of “chemicals” – and by that I mean that just about everything in food can be broken down into a chemical equation. If we were to list the ingredients in milk, it would say something like “casein, lactose, calcium phosphate, water, …” etc. etc. However, labeling laws don’t require that extensive labeling for things like milk, vegetables, fruits, chicken, beef, etc.. Only “manufactured” foods are required to have that type of labeling. Almond and rice milk were created exactly for people such as yourself who cannot tolerate dairy or who avoid it on ethical… Read more »

Reply to  Nancy@acommunaltable
October 7, 2010 3:35 pm

Nancy, thank you for the explanation. I looked at my rice milk box and saw the same things and was irritated and fascinated at the same time. It’s nice to know these are GOOD additives that provide similar nutritional benefits of cow’s milk. Thanks for taking the time to explain the things that normal people need a lexicon to decipher!

October 6, 2010 10:33 am

That looks amazing and seasonal. Can’t wait for my latest squash to come!

And Renee – I’ve done that, too. Barley makes a GREAT risotto.

October 6, 2010 9:05 am

You can make risotto from barley too 🙂 nom nom nom.

October 6, 2010 8:58 am

Thanks for this post; it’s given me the push I need to not fear the risotto! As I try to slowly make my way through mastering classics in my kitchen, risotto is still on the list of “to do’s”. I wanted to offer a suggestion for tuna – Henry and Lisa’s sashimi grade tenderloin with no preservatives, no chemicals, Pacific Northwest line-caught, endorsed by Seafood Watch, etc. Yes it’s still cooked in a can and it has some salt so it may not fall under some people’s allow lists, but I’m ok with it. Also, for those that refuse to live without mustard (like me), I found one at a German market that only has mustard seeds, vinegar, and salt. I know, again with the salt, but I figure since I’ve given up snack foods I have a negative balance of it 😉 Incidentally, I was dissapointed to read on… Read more »

Reply to  Tara
October 6, 2010 9:53 am


Great idea for the canned tuna. Thanks!! (I love tuna.) Also, salt is perfectly fine. We NEED salt to live. 😉

I actually have a bag of xanthan gum in my kitchen. HAH! It’s used as a natural binder for things like sauces and breads, in place of gluten-containing ingredients. A very natural substance, so don’t shy away from it. 🙂 But the sugar. Ugh. Seems they put some form of sugar in EVERYTHING these days!

Thanks for the comment!

Reply to  Tara
October 6, 2010 9:56 am

Also, I should note that this is vegan risotto. To make traditional risotto, stir in about a half-cup of grated parmesan cheese at the end. 🙂

Risotto is SUPER simple, once you do it the first time. And it’s SO good and rewarding. Risotto is, quite simply, my one-meal-I’d-want-with-me-on-a-deserted-island food. 🙂