Healthier Risotto with Shrimp, Butternut Squash, and Parmesan

Risotto is one of my all-time favorite dishes for all the following reasons: white rice slowly cooked in white wine, lots of butter, and lots of Parmesan cheese.

But it’s also a once-in-a-great-while treat, mainly because of all the high calorie and not-so-healthy reasons listed above.

So I’ve spent some time trying to come up with a healthier risotto, and it turns out all that butter and low-nutrition white rice isn’t necessary to a tasty and flavorful dish.

To create a healthier version of risotto, I:

  • took out all the butter and used heart-healthy olive oil instead.
  • used high fiber brown rice instead of the traditional starchy Arborio white rice. (I found that rice that’s slowly cooked with onions, white wine, and flavorful broth is delicious anyway, no matter if it’s white or brown.) (It’s challenging, thought-provoking work I do for this blog.)
  • added low-calorie shrimp and highly nutritious butternut squash to balance out all the carbs from the rice.
  • did leave in some Parmesan cheese because – here’s my philosophy – what’s risotto (or life!) without a little cheese? (Parmesan is high in fat but also a good source of  protein and calcium).

Here are all the ingredients you’ll need to make a healthier risotto.

This dish tastes like a pretty elaborate, fancy schmancy dinner, but you’ll notice I’ve actually included a lot of time-saving ingredients, so the complete meal can be prepared in under 45 minutes: pre-cut and peeled butternut squash, peeled and deveined frozen shrimp, and partially boiled brown rice.

Begin by preheating the oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes.

Try to keep them as equally sized as possible so they’ll roast evenly in the oven.

Arrange the butternut on a parchment-lined baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle just a bit of olive oil as well as some 100% pure maple syrup for natural sweetness.

Use your hands to mix everything together and make sure all the squash is nicely coated.

Then arrange the butternut so it’s spread out across the pan without any pieces overlapping.

Roast in the oven until the squash is easily pierced with a fork and just begins to show signs of browning around the edges.

While the squash is deliciously roasting away, begin prepping the other ingredients.

Dice up half of an onion.

Mince up some garlic.

Grate some fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Place several cups of vegetable stock in a microwave-safe container.

Heat the stock in the microwave for a few minutes, until it’s hot but not yet boiling.

Keep the container covered to keep the broth warm.

You’ll add this warm broth to the rice – a little at a time – later, and it’s best to keep the broth hot so it doesn’t bring down the temperature of the rice.

Next, add some olive oil to a large, heavy stock pot over medium-low heat.

Saute the onion for several minutes, until it’s nicely softened.

Then add the brown rice.

Here’s why I used brown rice and not the traditional starchy, short-grain white rice in my Healthier Risotto: brown rice has nearly 4 times the fiber of white rice.  Fiber aids in digestion, helps lower cholesterol, and helps control blood sugar.  Fiber also helps you feel fuller for longer, so you may find you feel the need to eat a lot less.

Stir the rice around the pan, coating it with the olive oil and allowing it to become lightly toasted.

Then add some dry white wine and allow that to simmer and reduce down for a few minutes.

Next, add about a cup of the warm broth and stir, making sure all the rice is incorporated and not sticking to the edges of the pan.

When the broth has been mostly absorbed by the rice and only a small amount of broth remains in the pan, add another cup of the warm broth and stir again.

Repeat this process several times, until the rice is cooked.

The best way to tell when the rice is ready: do a few taste tests along the way! You’ll know your risotto is ready to serve when the rice is tender but still firm to the bite.

While the rice is cooking away, prepare the shrimp.

Just heat a bit of olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat and add the garlic.

Cook for just a minute or two and then add the shrimp.

Important Tip: Be sure the shrimp is fully thawed before cooking.  It helps to pat the shrimp dry with a towel as well.

Otherwise, you’ll end up with a watery sauce, which is not ideal.

Yours truly has learned this the hard way by trying to rush this recipe a time or two.

Season the shrimp with a bit of salt and pepper and drizzle just a touch of 100% pure maple syrup.

Stir and cook until the shrimp is heated through, and then set the shrimp aside.

When the risotto is fully cooked, remove the pot from the heat and add some olive oil.

Important Tip: since the oil is added at the very end, the flavor counts, so a high quality extra virgin olive oil works best here.

Also add the freshly grated Parmesan, your secret weapon to making this risotto irresistible.

Season to your taste with salt and pepper, and stir to combine everything.

Then carefully mix in the roasted squash and the maple-glazed shrimp.

This dish is so flavorful, I don’t think you’ll miss the white rice or the butter found in a traditional risotto.

Both the squash and the shrimp are slightly sweet, a delicious contrast to the rich, savory Parmesan rice.

This dish is ideal winter weather comfort food: warm, filling, and indulgent.

Best of all, it’s also healthy and guilt-free!

Here is the complete recipe:

Healthier Risotto with Shrimp, Butternut Squash and Parmesan
Total Time: 45 minutes 
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings 
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
16-ounce container pre-cut butternut squash
1 tablespoon 100% pure maple syrup
5 cups vegetable stock
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cups brown rice
1 cup dry white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
20 small peeled and deveined frozen shrimp, thawed
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper




Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.


Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes, and arrange on a parchment-lined backing sheet.  Drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of maple syrup over the squash. Season with salt and pepper.  Using hands, toss squash to ensure that all pieces are equally coated.  Arrange squash pieces so that they cover the bottom of the baking sheet, with no pieces overlapping. Roast in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork.


Place the vegetable stock in a large microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave until hot but not yet boiling, about 3 minutes.  Keep the container covered to keep the stock warm.


Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large stock pot over medium-low heat.  Add the diced onion and cook until the onion is softened, about 7 minutes.  Add the brown rice and cook a couple minutes more, stirring often, until the rice is lightly toasted.  Add the white wine and allow it to simmer and reduce for about 2 minutes.  Add about 1 1/2 cups of the warm vegetable stock to the pan and stir. Allow the stock to lightly simmer and cook down, stirring often.  When most of the stock has been absorbed by the rice and just a small amount of stock remains in the pan, after about 7 minutes, add another cup of warm stock to the pan.  Repeat this process several times, stirring often, for about 25 minutes.


Meanwhile, heat 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat.
Add the minced garlic and cook until lightly softened, about 1-2 minutes.  Add the thawed shrimp and 1/2 tablespoon of maple syrup.  Season with salt and pepper and stir.  Cook until the shrimp is heated through, about 3 minutes.


When the rice is tender but is still firm to the bite, the risotto is ready. Remove the risotto from the heat.  Stir in the Parmesan cheese and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Carefully stir in the roasted squash and maple-glazed shrimp, and serve.

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  1. November 27, 2012 / 10:59 am

    Looks like my kind of meal. I recommend the Green Giant diced butternut though!

  2. November 27, 2012 / 11:20 am

    Beautiful recipe Jen! I love butternuts and will risk dicing my fingers in order to taste this wonderful squash… I can’t get it ready prepped over here yet 🙁
    That being said, I will risk my fingers again for this recipe at the weekend!

  3. November 27, 2012 / 11:56 am

    So cool that you can make risotto with brown rice! I’ve never tried that. This sounds so good!

  4. jalal
    November 27, 2012 / 12:55 pm

    Delicious dish.l will keep following your blog.jalal

  5. November 27, 2012 / 1:47 pm

    What a beautiful butternut dish my friend 🙂

    Choc Chip Uru

  6. November 27, 2012 / 2:54 pm

    This dish is full of ingredients that I absolutely adore! Risotto has always been one of my favorite comforting meals and I love that you lighten this recipe up to make a healthier version. Roasted butternut squash and shrimp are also on the menu quite a bit in my house, so this recipe is perfect for a delicious and healthy meal! I’d make a huge batch of it so that I could take it to work for lunches for a week!!

  7. November 27, 2012 / 3:28 pm

    Another beautiful recipe with a great walkthrough. Excellent photos as always.

  8. November 27, 2012 / 3:41 pm

    I love your photo of your pretty dish with the title written over the photo like a magazine cover.

  9. November 27, 2012 / 4:03 pm

    This looks great!! I love that minute rice, it’s such a life saver when I am STARVING!!

  10. November 27, 2012 / 5:06 pm

    Looks SO good! And much healthier than the Turkey-Mushroom Risotto I made with Thanksgiving leftovers – although that was to die for…

  11. November 27, 2012 / 9:18 pm

    I’m a huge fan of risotto. I love your healthified version! The butternut squash with shrimp is a must!

  12. November 27, 2012 / 9:49 pm

    What a delicious dish! I bet your house smelled wonderful while the rice and the butternut were cooking!

  13. November 27, 2012 / 9:59 pm

    This looks like such a great approach to making a sinful dish better for you without losing flavour. I like the idea of applying this method to other risottos, but this combination is very appealing!

  14. November 27, 2012 / 10:04 pm

    These are some really great ideas for making a risotto so much healthier. I love brown rice and wouldn’t mind the substitution one bit! Excellent!

  15. November 28, 2012 / 12:49 am

    Such a great recipe. Risotto is my go to dinner on the cheap and quick. Stir through some pesto and peas and I’m in heaven!

  16. November 28, 2012 / 6:52 am

    I’ve never tried risotto with brown rice, but it looks like it turned out great! I love the use of shrimp and butternut squash together. Yum.

  17. November 28, 2012 / 12:15 pm

    Risotto is a favorite in my house and I’m always looking for new ways to prepare it! This will be on the menu soon. Thank you for sharing the recipe!

  18. November 29, 2012 / 3:57 pm

    Another great recipe. I really enjoy reading your blog and have nominated you for the Inspiring Blogger award. To accept the award you link back to me, then list 7 things about yourself, and nominate 15 other bloggers and leave them a message that they were nominated.

  19. November 29, 2012 / 4:35 pm

    Loving the colors and flavors in this. And I love lighter versions for old faves!

  20. November 30, 2012 / 10:39 am

    Yummo! That’s a winner for sure. Love the photos. Don’t you just love using butternut squash in so many dishes this time of year? Plus, it sure helps to have that stunning color in the photos. LOL!

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