Thursday, 17 November 2011

Easy and foolproof Risotto - Bacon and Leek

I first time I tasted risotto was about 16 years ago.  I was vegetarian at the time and a friend made me porcini risotto.  I absolutely loved it!   I took to ordering it in restaurants because often it was the only decent vegetarian option on the menu but never tried to make it for myself.

A couple of years later I started going out with an Italian.  His family lived in a town outside Milan and owned a Deli.  I literally had the contents of an entire Italian Deli at my disposal but because I was a devout veggie I didn't touch any of the lovely cured meats, homemade ravioli and the like.  Now I must tell you that I wasn't a veggie because I disliked meat.  Oh no, I bloody loved the stuff - in fact salami is in my top ten foods.  I was the only veggie I know who loves meat and spent 12 years denying myself the pleasure of it. 

Each time I visited Italy it was an exercise in deprivation and frustration.  His family thought I was odd anyway.  I had very short hair - think Dolores O'Riordan from the Cranberries - and my shoe choice of the time was Vegan Doc Martens.  This did not sit well with the fur-wearing, stilleto teetering, long "blonde" haired clones.  Anyway I digress...........

The next time I tasted risotto my "father-in-law", who was a wonderful cook, make me a totally plain risotto topped with shavings of truffle.  Oh my god - it was sensational!  Truffle is in my food top five.  So my love affair with risotto began and it's never ended.  The recipe below is one of my favourites.

As to my rather long foray into vegetarianism........

Eventually it all got too much for me and I had to give in.  Nowadays I eat meat with gay abandon and make up for all those years of ordering crappy vegetarian options in swish restaurants.  Nowadays I buy organic and am still concerned about animal welfare.  To all those real life-long veggies I'm a heretic but what can I say ...... I'm weak.

[Serves 4]

300g Carnaroli or Arborio risotto rice

3 x generous knobs of butter and a tiny splash of olive oil

1 large white onion or two medium

2 cloves of minced garlic

250ml of dry white wine – room temperature is better than cold

1 litre of chicken stock [I use one and a half Knorr  chicken stock cubes]

3 large or 4 medium leeks – sliced approx. 3 mm thick

1 packet of smoked bacon [6 slices] – grilled until well done and with the fat cut off

1 heaped cup (250ml] of grated parmesan cheese – plus extra for serving

Freshly ground black pepper

Finely chopped parsley to garnish


Finely chop the onion and mince the garlic

Put into heavy bottom pot with first knob of butter and add a small splash of olive oil

Saute until transparent over a very low heat – approx 10 minutes – stirring very few minutes

In the meantime ……

Grill bacon until well done and the fat is quite brown.  Cut off fat using scissors and chop or cut into small-ish bit size pieces – set aside

Saute the sliced leek with the second knob of butter - for now more than a few minutes, they should still be a little crunchy as they will continue to cook once added to the risotto

If using a stock cube make up stock with boiling water , if using fresh stock bring to boil, either in microwave or in a separate pot on the stove

Add rice to onion and garlic mixture and turn up heat from low to medium – stir rice for 2 minutes until well coated with butter and rice is just starting to turn transparent

Set a timer for 15 minutes – then immediately

Add wine and stir rice continuously until the wine has been absorbed by the rice – heat should be medium, so that the rice bubbles nicely but not vigorously

Add a generous splash of stock [about a soup ladle full] and stir until almost completely absorbed by the rice

Continue in this way until the timer goes off – stirring all the time

Now do the bite test – the rice should have a little bit of bite in the middle and also remember the rice will continue to cook once it comes off the heat and you stir in the bacon and leeks

Stir in the bacon and leeks and once combined add the grated parmesan cheese

Add a generous grinding of black pepper

Stir a few times to combine and then add the final knob of butter

Stir a few times and leave to rest for two minutes

Serve in bowls with a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of parsley

Cooks tips:

I prefer to add all the wine first, as I feel this give the rice a nice flavour

I prefer to use smoked bacon because I love the smokiness and it goes really well with leeks

I don't add extra salt because the stock cube and parmesan cheese make it salty enough for my taste

If you've ordered risotto in a number of restaurants you'll know that everyone seems to have their own interpretation of how dry or wet a risotto should be.  Personally I like mine not to be stodgy.  Kind of like if you stood a teaspoon up in a pile of it, it would fall over slowly as opposed to standing up straight.

Remember, when you add the parmesan to the rice at the very end it causes the mixture to stiffen - so it's wise to have it runnier than you'd ideally like before you add the parmesan

Adding a generous knob of butter at the end gives the risotto a silken texture.  The key is to only stir it a few times [some purists say three times in a clockwise motion] so as not to overmix it and potentially ruin the texture

Risotto purists believe in a resting period - I'm not 100 sure why?  Maybe someone can enlighten me?    I imagine that the italians know what they're talking about when it comes to this dish - so I just do it ;-)

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