23 August 2012

Bacon, pear & aubergine risotto - comfort food goes upmarket!

I've been very remiss just lately in not giving you a run-down on what we've got on the menu for the week, so you won't have any idea of the context for this risotto.

So, let me explain a little.  It's currently the school summer holidays and, not surprisingly, we've been alternately busy ferrying the lad to and from social engagements, trying to get up early enough to avoid the crowds in the supermarket when we're shopping and sitting around the house wishing we were somewhere else.  The weather has been extremely hot (but just for a few days, thank goodness!) and we've been a bit bored with everything.

The weather forecast for the week was of increasing temperatures, culminating in a blisteringly hot 30+degrees.  Now those of you who live in Florida or somewhere equally hot or worse, might look at that temperature, snort and call that a balmy day.  Me?  I call that a "stay under a cool shower for the whole day and hope it will go away" day.

I really should live in Alaska or somewhere.

So, as a consequence, the menu for the week was headed towards salads, through an "easy" meal or two.  One of hubby's excellent risottos is definitely classed as an "easy" meal as he claims that once you've done the chopping and a-peeling, it's just a matter of putting stuff into a pot and stirring a lot.  Personally, I think it involves rather more than just that, but I see where he's coming from with it.

Now hubby has had a thing about cooking with pears and pineapple, for ages.  Every time we begin to consider menu's, he starts suggesting pineapply things, or stuff with pears.  Now the pears I can happily consider as a fairly wide-ranging ingredient in savoury dishes, but the pineapple?  That has a rather restricted appeal, for me.  So I was happy when he started considering what would go with pear in a risotto.

We had already settled on a bacon joint for dinner the previous day, which left the other half of the meat "buckshee" (meaning "something extra or left over, obtained for free"), as my Dad would say.  It was easy then, to match up the leftover bacon with pear as good risotto ammunition - but what else?  It definitely needed something else to round out the flavour, we felt.

Hubby suggested one of his current favourites, which was aubergine.  I greeted this suggestion with some doubt, until he clarified it by specifying chargrilled aubergine.  Now that made lots more sense, as while plain old aubergine has its uses, I felt it would be too bland as another flavour for a risotto.  However, knowing how chargrilling transforms your humble aubergine, that made a very acceptable trinity.  Pear for sweetness and texture, lovely salty, soft textured bacon and earthy, smoky aubergine.  Yum!

The end result was very definitely one of his best risottos yet.  Along similar lines to the Bramley Apple, Bacon & Black Pudding Risotto, this one is rather less challenging, yet with every bit as much flavour and satisfaction in the eating.

If the black pudding put you off the Bramley Apple one - do try this one.  You don't need to use half a bacon joint, any type of bacon would do just as well.  However, you do need to buy a fresh aubergine, slice it, sprinkle with a little oil and seasoning and cook it on a griddle pan or under the grill (or barbecue, if you've got one going at the time!).  The aubergine can be done in the morning and left under cling film until required, which will reduce the amount of fiddling around you need to do once you get cracking on the risotto.

Anyway, here are your instructions, written by hubby, along with a few Rizzology tips from the Master ...


Ingredients :

1 medium onion - very finely chopped
40g butter
half a tsp Herbes du Provence
half a tsp dried Basil
1.5 ltr Ham Stock (from a cube is fine)
350g Arborio Rice
glug of Rapeseed oil
400g cooked bacon/gammon joint
1 aubergine, sliced, griddled and then cut to 1cm dice
1 pear, peeled cut to 1cm dice (I used a Conference)
50g finely grated (microplaned) Parmesan Cheese.

Method :

1.  Cut the aubergine into 1cm slices, sprinkle with a little oil and season very lightly before cooking on a very hot griddle pan. Make sure that plenty of griddle marks make it onto the aubergine as this creates a fantastic smokey flavour.  Once cooled, cut the aubergine to a 1cm dice.

2.  Peel the pear and cut to a 1cm dice before placing into a bowl of acidulated water (simply put some water into a bowl and then squeeze in some lemon juice) to prevent the flesh from oxidising and turning brown.

3.  Cut the cooked ham to a 1cm dice and set aside.

4.  Finally, cut the onion to as fine a dice as you can possibly manage.

5.  In a saucepan, make up the stock and heat to a lively simmer.

6.  Pour a good glug of rapeseed oil into a large pan and then melt the butter into this.  Add the finely diced onion and allow to sweat over a low heat until the onion is soft but not coloured.

7.  Now turn the heat up to a good sizzle before adding the rice.  Stir vigorously, ensuring each grain of rice is well coated in the oils, taking care not to let the rice stick to the pan.

8.  Once the rice is hot, pour in a ladleful of stock and stir like crazy while it is sucked up into the rice.  Add another ladleful of stock, the dried herbs, all of the ham and about a quarter of the aubergine whilst keeping the whole mixture moving.  Keep adding the stock, whenever the mixture starts to get too stiff.

9.  After around ten minutes of this process, drain the pear pieces and add them to the pan along with the remaining aubergine.  Keep adding stock and stirring until the rice is cooked through, which should take another ten or fifteen minutes.  Once the rice is tender, stir in the parmesan and remove the pan from the heat.  Leave the risotto to rest for two to three minutes before serving onto warmed plates.

Rizzology :  There are a few central principles to making a good risotto and these are as follows ..


Regardless of the ingredients being used in your risotto, the absolute cornerstone is the stock.  The better the stock being used, the better your risotto is going to be.  Conversely, if you use a chicken Oxo then don't expect miracles!

Don't worry if you have some stock left over.  Rice seems to vary from packet to packet with some needing more liquid and some needing less.  Use as much stock as is required to get the rice tender but absolutely no more .... unless you're keen on rice soup.  (See "The Finish" below for notes on the final texture).

The "Gasp!"

The process of frying the dry rice in the oils is to break down its outer layer and open the 'pores' of the rice.  There is a very fine balance to be struck in deciding when to add that first ladle of stock but my advice to you is to be brave!  Get the pan and the rice as hot as you dare before sloshing in that stock (carefully now) and you should hear every grain of rice gasp in relief!

When the gasp happens, whatever flavours are in the oil will be sucked into the rice so flavouring the oil with spices can yield great results.  For this reason, if you're using spiced meats such as chorizo, it's better to add them right at the beginning, before the rice goes in, to allow its flavours to permeate the oils.

Some risottos call for the first ladle of stock to be replaced by a glass of wine, which is lovely when the recipe needs it.  When wine is used though, make sure to cook out the majority of the alcohol to prevent the stock from becoming bitter.

The Finish

There are a huge variety of opinions as to what the consistency of a finished risotto should be.  Some like it so loose that it immediately swims to the edges of the plate.  Some restaurants serve it so stiff that it can be placed into a ring or dariol mould and will then hold that shape on the plate.  My own feeling is that it should be served 'oozy'.  Think Sophia Loren on a chaise longue and you'll be on the right track.  One practice that I strongly disagree with however, is the use of cheese as a binding agent.  I almost always put a handful of grated parmesan into my risotto right at the end of cooking but always as a flavouring.  Before I add the cheese, my risotto is already at the consistency that I want.

So there you are - go on, have a go.  You know you want to!

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