Sunday, January 15, 2012

Experiments in Risotto No. 1

Within these pages I have already professed an intense fondness for risotto.  Truth be told, I probably spend an abnormal amount of time thinking about risotto and various incarnations of it.  The latest version has been running around in my thoughts for about a week now.  Tug seemed a little tepid about the idea, so I’ve been putting it off, but realization of the idea became necessary. 

Bacon and bleu cheese risotto. 

There.  I said it.  Across the globe, Italian grandmothers are turning over in their graves.

Where the combination of bacon and bleu cheese began is beyond me, but it just seems so American:  hamburgers with bacon and bleu cheese, a tender filet wrapped in bacon and topped with bleu cheese – maybe it’s just the idea of meat and cheese together.  Whatever it is, I wanted to apply it to risotto.

How did it turn out?  I certainly wasn’t mad at it, and Tug gave it a thumbs up, but it didn’t exactly meet my expectations.  The biggest problem is that I really didn’t notice the bleu cheese at all.  For round two, I definitely think the parmesan needs to be reduced and the bleu cheese increased.  Or maybe I just needed a bleu cheese stronger than Gorgonzola (at least I used an Italian bleu).  I also used a domestic parmesan, which seemed more assertive than the Parmigiano Reggiano I ordinarily use.  The recipe is below as I made it.  The stock I used was some of the turkey stock I made and froze after Thanksgiving, but chicken or vegetable stock work equally well.

There are a few photos missing from my progress.  I was having difficulty cooking, getting photos and keeping Tug out of the bacon.

Bacon & Bleu Cheese Risotto
6 slices bacon, slightly frozen or very cold
1 cup medium diced red onion
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine* such as Pinot Grigio
4 to 6 cups homemade or low-sodium stock
1-1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese, divided
3/4 cup bleu cheese, crumbled (I used Gorgonzola)
Salt and pepper to taste

Make sure to start the bacon in a
cold pan to render the fat.

Slice the cold bacon crosswise (about ¼-inch strips) and place in a large, high-sided sauté pan.  Set the pan over a cold burner and set the heat to medium-low .  Slowly cook the bacon to render the fat and crisp the bits. 

Perfectly crisped bacon!

When the bacon bits are crisp, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.  Don’t worry about the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  They’ll come up when you start adding liquid.  Increase the heat to medium.  Add the onion and cook until transparent.  

To see if you're ready to add more
stock, run your spoon down the
middle of the pan.  If it leaves a
trail that liquid doesn't rush into,
you're ready for the next ladleful
of stock.

Add the rice to the pan, stirring so that every grain is coated in the rendered bacon fat.  Take your time – this step is really important.  Cook until the outside of the rice is almost transparent and the inside still opaque.  Add the wine, cook and stir until it's almost completely absorbed.  (*If you’d prefer not to use alcohol, just omit it and use extra stock.)  Add a ladleful (about 1/2 cup) of stock.  Cook and stir the rice until the liquid is nearly absorbed, but don’t let the pan get completely dry.  Add another ladleful of stock and repeat the process until the rice is fully cooked, but still has a slight firmness in bite.  This will take about 20 minutes or so.  Taste the rice after adding about four cups of the stock to check for doneness.

Add one cup of the parmesan and the bleu cheese and stir gently to combine and melt.  Taste the risotto and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir in the reserved bacon bits. 

Serve hot garnished with the additional parmesan.

Buon Appetito!

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