Saffron Butternut Squash Risotto with Steel Cut Oats

There’s this place on West 3rd street conveniently located about 6 minutes from the NYU Bobst Library door called OatMeals. It’s a tiny little oatmeal cafe that I discovered as a sophomore in college, and grew to love. In fact, my very first Spoon article was about OatMeals, giving it an extra special nostalgic garnish on top of its already adorable charm.

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Not only was OatMeals my first experience in food journalism (which inevitably kick started my love of writing for Spoon, general interest in food writing, and eventually this blog), it is also perhaps one of the most inspiring places for me in a culinary sense. How could this be, you ask? Because the head chef and owner of OatMeals named Sam, who more often than not, was in the kitchen herself when I’d run in for my fix, takes the seemingly humble oat, and reinvents it continuously, going outside “typical” boundaries and showcasing a grain in innumerable imaginative ways.

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It inspire ones to break their own culinary boundaries and rethink everything, from what they can do with oatmeal to what they can do with their lives. Sam was an investment banker for years, then went to pastry school and opened OatMeals after having the idea linger in her head for nearly a decade. Her story and her smile with every bowl of oats she serves up makes my heart smile, as do her delicious oats.

Butternut Squash Risotto Saffron steel cut oatmeal

So not only does OatMeals have “classic” oatmeal dishes, like bowls topped with fresh berries and almonds or peanut butter and bananas, they have a large assortment of savory oat bowls, many of which are honestly better than the risotto you find at high-priced restaurants. I had played with savory oatmeal before visiting OatMeals, but never prepared it in a risotto-type dish. This opened me up to a whole new side of oats to me, and when I wanted a cheesy-tasting risotto with squash but had no aribotto rice on hand, I took advantage of the steel cut oats I did have in my pantry and this dish was born. I added saffron because I recall loving it in the risotto dish I made in Food Science last year. Yes, the good days when I actually got school credit to play chef in a kitchen. Twas heaven. And so is this risOATo, pun absolutely intended.

Butternut Squash Risotto Saffron steel cut oatmeal

Simple, filling, and warm to the body and soul, this Butternut Squash Risotto made with steel cut oatmeal won’t let you down, the way, say, Bravo playing movies on Friday and Saturday nights does. Make a batch and eat it up. It’s best fresh out of the pan and into yo face. Happy late February friends! I just learned as I was typing this that it’s apparently national oatmeal month. So celebrate and take comfort in large bowls of oatmeal and the fact that warmer weather will eventually be coming.

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Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
serves 2


  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or water
    • optional: sub 1/2 cup water for 1/2 cup canned coconut milk for a richer dish with a subtle coconut undertone
  • 1 cup butternut squash, cubed (I used pre-cut bagged butternut squash from Trader Joe’s, defrosted frozen would also work)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 medium onion or one scallion, chopped
  • 1  teaspoon dried sage or 4-5 fresh leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (or vegan parmesan or parmesan)
  • salt & pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Toss butternut squash cubes in olive oil and salt and pepper to taste and spread on a baking sheet. Roast for 25-30 minutes until tender.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium or large skillet, heat oil over medium heat and add chopped onion. Sweat onion until it becomes translucent. Add sage, cayenne pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon saffron. Add steel cut oats to hot pan and toast, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 minutes.

3. Slowly add vegetable stock, 1 cup at a time, Stir slowly  and near constantly after each addition, until stock is absorbed, at which point add another cup, until all 4 cups have been absorbed and oats are plump and tenderized yet still al dente, and liquid appears creamy, about 20-30 minutes total. Remove from heat.

4. Stir in nutritional yeast or parmesan. At this point the squash should be about done. Add the squash to the risotto, as well as the remaining 1 teaspoon and stir gently. Finish with salt and pepper to taste.

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