Vote for me!
There. That’s my shameless request.
This is a post for a risotto contest sponsored by MarxFoods, fine food importers and importers of Integrale rice, a whole wheat version of arborio.
Here’s the website if you want to vote right away and skip reading anything more!
Or read on to be an educated voter:
I learned to make risotto in my friend’s four hundred-year-old home, the Lake Como breezes from an open window mixing with the steam from the simmering pan of arborio.
My friends measure risotto by the handful: two handfuls of rice per person, which translates roughly to a half cup per person. Sometimes my Lake Como friends made sausage and Borlotti bean risotto; sometimes they made straight risotto Milanese shimmering with golden saffron; sometimes they made a very simple risotto, begun with just butter, a half an onion, a half-cup of white wine, and finished with a pile of shaved truffle, dug on the mountain above their home that morning. There was never a recipe. My friends know how to make risotto the way they know how to brush their teeth.
So to leave risotto tradition is hard for me. When I was invited to participate in the Integrale Challenge, coming up with a “novel” version of risotto felt wrong. Who was I to buck hundreds of years of Nonna-stirring arborio tastes? If Marcella Hazan, the doyenne of Italian knives, hasn’t approved a risotto idea, it must be profane, and probably doesn’t taste very good.
This thinking made me feel stodgy and unimaginative. There must be something Italians haven’t tried that would complement the starch-seduction of risotto making?
I decided to think like an American, not an Italian. The fact that Integrale rice is a bit heftier than risotto (think a “brown rice” version of risotto, but not quite so “health-food-store”) also made me think it could take on more “stuff” – more textures and stronger flavors.
Inspiration arrived in a BLT Sandwich, an idea to be honest suggested by my daughter after many failed risotto dinners. There is no true European parallel for a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with a little mayo and – ok, avocado, just because it’s great with bacon. This became my American Integrale risotto inspiration.
I bested each sandwich element excepting the bread.
I candied house-cured bacon from a heritage pig, making one of the more delicious things a carnivore could put to their lips, a recipe from Cathy Barrow of the blog Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen.
For the “L” in BLT, I stirred in great handfuls of fresh basil and arugula.
I caramelized the tomatoes, roasting them with garlic, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and added them to the risotto as a sort of faux mantecatura, when traditionally butter and cheese are added at the end to make the dish creamy.
I made a fresh aioli with a whiff of chili powder, because no BLT is complete without mayo, and the aioli provides the creaminess a cheese might, but there is no parmigiana or even pecorino in a BLT.
Lastly, I tumbled some avocado chunks on top, because BLT’s are really good with avocado; I suppose that makes it technically a BALT.
All of these flavors – the sweet and salty bacon, the rich aioli and avocado, the acid from the tomatoes and the summery taste of basil made this one of the darnedest risotto’s I’ve tasted, keeping with the American vernacular. The Integrale toothsomeness was perfect for the “rough” slant on this risotto. Afterall, BLT’s are best on a hearty sourdough bread, not brioche.
So now, don’t forget to vote! http://marxfood.com/the-integrale-gauntlet/
BLT Integrale Risotto
for the risotto:
2 cups Integrale risotto
5 cups or more homemade chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion
1 cup white white
salt and pepper
for the caramelized tomatoes:
1 can plum tomatoes, drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
salt and pepper
for the candied bacon
4 slabs high quality bacon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
for the aioli:
2 egg yolks
1 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
a pinch of chili powder
1 cup fresh basil chiffonade and a bit for the garnish
1 cup small-leaf arugula
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt and pepper
chili powder (optional)
For the caramelized tomatoes:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Cut the tomatoes into quarters. Arrange them on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle the garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper over the tomatoes. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are concentrated and beginning to caramelize. Set aside.
For the candied bacon:
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Stir together the chili powder with the brown sugar. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Cut the bacon strips into four pieces. Dredge each piece well in the brown sugar mixture, pressing it in. Place the bacon on the parchment lined sheet pan, leaving space between each piece. Place another piece of parchment on top of the bacon, then another sheet pan for weight. This will keep the bacon from curling.
Bake for about 15 minutes, or as much as 20 minutes, checking frequently as the bacon will quickly burn. Cool. The bacon will crisp as it sits.
For the aioli:
Separate the eggs, saving the whites for another use, and put yolks into a medium-size bowl. With a large wire whisk, begin to stir the yolks, pouring oil drop by drop slowly into the moving whisk. Keep adding oil, increasing it to a steady stream, but never too fast. As the aioli thickens, keep whisking and adding oil until finished. Stir in salt, pepper, and chili powder.
For the rice:
Peel and finely chop the onion.
Melt the butter and oil in a 4-to-5-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring regularly.
Add the onion and cook, continuing to stir, until it turns soft and translucent.
Meanwhile, pour the chicken broth into a separate saucepan, set over medium heat, and bring to a gentle simmer. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain this simmer the whole time you are preparing the risotto.
Once the onion is soft, add the rice and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes, until it begins to crackle.
Add the wine, and stir until it is evaporated.
Using a ladle, scoop up about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of broth. Pour it in the pan with the rice, stirring constantly with a spoon. After the first addition of broth, the rice mixture will look a bit soupy.
As the rice begins to cook, stir it constantly, making sure that you scrape along the bottom of the pan so that it does not stick.
When most of the liquid is absorbed into the rice and the rice begins to look a bit dry, add another ladle of broth to the pan and stir constantly, as before.
Continue to add the broth in 1/2-to-3/4-cup batches and stir the rice until you have used most of the broth. Traditional risotto usually takes 25 minutes for me. The Integrale definitely took 30 minutes to become al dente.
(If it looks as if you will run out of chicken broth and your rice is still not cooked, don’t be alarmed. Because of variations in individual stoves and cooking temperatures, you may need more liquid than called for in the recipe. Simply heat up another cup or 2 of chicken broth. If you run out of broth, use hot water.)
When the Integrale has just a tiny bit of resistance or tooth to it, stir in the roasted tomatoes. Allow them to mix in, maybe adding one more ladle-full of broth if you think the rice still has too much bite.
When it is still individual grains and soft enough (I find the Integrale never became unified in one pour-able liquid, the way risotto does), turn off the heat, and mix in the basil and arugula.
Ladle into shallow bowls. Top first with chunks of avocado that have been rubbed with lemon to prevent browning. Put a healthy teaspoon or more of aioli on each serving, and then top with pieces of candied bacon. Dust all with a sprinkle of salt, black pepper and chili powder (optional) and a few leaves of fresh basil.