Monday, August 1, 2011

What We Ate Tonight: Apple Bacon Risotto

I am loving the new issue of Rachel Ray's magazine - not only is there a full feature on how to cook ahead for a MONTH, but the everyday recipes look pretty amazing too, and I found inspiration to make up my own risotto. *Side note: I love risotto. It is hands-down my favorite food, not only to make, but especially to eat. Whenever I see risotto on a restaurant menu I order it - even though it is usually a special for the night, and therefore $30. I even ordered seafood risotto one time when my boss was paying, which was a mistake because I generally dislike seafood, even surrounded by rice-y, cheese-y goodness, but once I got around the shells, it was still pretty good. End of side note. Thank you for reading.*  Tonight I made what I think is my finest risotto attempt ever. I know that is a pretty bold statement, but I'm so proud of it, I am including the recipe for you to try it yourself. Look for it after the jump.
My inspiration was one tiny sentence in a feature about what surprising grocery store staples restaurant chefs use to punch up their meals, at home or at work. One chef said he returned from a road trip and decided to make a risotto using inspiration from ingredients he had eaten in the car: apples, Cheez-Its, beer (hmm ... Deputy Handsome might have something to say about that) and powdered bacon (flavoring for chips? Or bacon-flavored fun-dip? We may never know). There wasn't a recipe for this combination of amazingness, so I made it up myself. And since my brain was working overtime on the risotto, for the protein portion of the meal, I followed a recipe from the magazine for Beer-Braised Chicken all the way to the pat of butter in the finishing pan sauce. The result was a meal that would have been truly euphoric, had we decided to wait and eat it after the kids were asleep.
Beer-Braised Chicken on a bed of sauteed veggies and
Apple Bacon Risotto with Cheez-It topping

Apple Bacon Risotto (if you have never made risotto before, I suggest you seek out an expert - google? - for technique first, as my instructions are pretty general. I totally had Scott Conant from the Chopped judges table in my head as I was making this - is the rice al dente? Is the consistency right?)

  • In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock to a low simmer. Keep a ladle close by for later.
  • Chop one small (or half of one large) onion and set aside
  • Chop six strips of bacon and set aside
  • Measure out 3/4 cup Aborrio rice (sold at TJs in a red box - I haven't found it anywhere else)
  • Open a beer for your husband (or for yourself if you're not nursing! lucky you!) and let him drink it, but get it back from him when there's about 1/3 the bottle left (or if you're making the beer-braised chicken I referenced above, the leftovers from the braising liquid will be plenty)
  • Turn the flame on under a dutch oven or any large, heavy sauce pan with high sides and pour in a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the pan is hot, add the chopped bacon. 
  • Keep an eye on the bacon, stirring frequently, and when it's cooked, turn the flame off and remove the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Scoop out most of the bacon fat into your fat jar (or into the trash, NEVER down the drain!) and return the pan to a medium-high flame. 
  • Add the onions, cook until they are soft, stirring frequently
  • Add the uncooked rice and stir until each grain is coated with the onion-y, bacon-y juices (does anything smell better than onion cooked in bacon fat? clearly the answer is no.)
  • Pour in the beer and stir until most of the liquid is evaporated. 
  • Start adding hot stock to the rice mixture a couple ladlefuls at a time, stirring after each addition. You will want to stir the mixture frequently and keep an eye on it so it doesn't dry out. Keep adding stock until the rice is al dente (about 20 minutes. you may not need all the stock.)
  • AT THE SAME TIME you are adding stock, peel and dice one granny smith apple and also crush a couple handfuls of Cheez-It crackers to crumbs. Set these aside.
  • When the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and add one more ladleful of stock, stir it in, then add a couple handfuls of grated parmesan cheese (not the powdered kind) and a handful of grated sharp cheddar cheese. Once the cheese is melted and fully incorporated, add one tablespoon of butter and the apples and reserved bacon. Stir to combine. 
  • Serve ASAP topped with crushed Cheez-Its. I dare you not to go back for seconds. 

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