These lockdown times play weird tricks on one’s mind. The limit on movement outside one’s property is taking its toll but also making space for some creativity. In my case, it is yet another dish. We all love food, so I guess it is to do a little experimenting in the kitchen.
Risotto is one of those soul-food dishes. If you slap it together you get back a tasteless dish. You have to prepare this dish with love and care. It is also quite simple to make and use but a few ingredients, hence the caveat. The dish is also quite easy to mess up.
I have made plenty of risottos of many descriptions over the past few years, but never a green one. A brief internet search revealed plenty of recipes with green colour; so I thought a green dish will be in order. I also thought it good to do another experiment with spinach. I have had my fill of leafy creamed spinach dishes. They all taste the same to me. A rice dish has more elements to play with, so there are more options for getting some excellent flavours along with the nourishment of spinach.
My choice fell on a variation of risotto with peas, pancetta, and taleggio cheese. The taleggio is not available in our neighbourhood, so I substituted that with camembert. I also did not have pancetta, so I used some locally made smoked bacon. For those that do not eat pork, this may be substituted with any smoky bacon style meat. The meat itself is almost a garnish, you need the flavours and saltiness in the meat. I also like some onion flavours in the dish, so I used half a brown onion and two leek sections of about six inches long (150mm). For the de-glazing, I used dry white wine, but half a cup of apple cider vinegar works a treat too. This dish does not get cream, but that was again my option of staying on the less rich side. I used the camembert cheese for the rich, creamy part.
The quantities here are enough for eight to ten servings, depending on whether you have to feed hungry teenagers or more sedate adults. You also may take a shortcut by parboiling the rice separately, then adding it to the dish. I have not done it this way, so I am not able to vouch for the resultant flavours of the shortcut.
1 ¾ cup arborio rice
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
250 g bacon, chopped
½ brown onion coarsely chopped
2 sections leek, cut into thin wheels
500 ml chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine or apple cider vinegar
150 g camembert cheese, chopped into small blocks
1 clove garlic, finely grated
¼ tsp chilli powder or cayenne pepper
Black pepper to taste
Some oil or ghee for frying
Some grated parmesan cheese for garnish
Wash the spinach, wilt it in hot water, then blitz it in the blender to get a fine paste. Keep it aside. Fry the bacon bits in light oil till it is done. Take care not to overdo this, it is not intended for crispy bacon at breakfast. Remove the bacon from the pan and keep it aside. Now fry the onions and leeks in the pan. Add some oil if the pan is too dry. Don’t mind the caramelisation from the bacon, this will become extra stock. Add the garlic for the last minute of frying, then add the rice. Fry the rice lightly and stir to ensure that all the grains get some flavour. Remember to add some salt at this stage. Now add the wine to deglaze the pan. All the caramelisation should be coming off and into the stock. The heat now is turned to low, no need for heavy boiling. Add the chicken stock in smallish quantities and stir the rice to ensure even absorption. Add the cayenne pepper or chilli powder. Keep on adding stock in little quantities and stir to make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the pan and burn. This is a mushy dish; it will burn quite easily. The bacon now comes back, as does the peas and the blended spinach. Taste for saltiness after adding all the ingredients. Remember that the bacon adds a lot of salt too. Add some black pepper too.
When the rice is almost done the camembert is added. Stir it through properly and give it time to melt. I shut down the stove and allowed the dish to rest with the heat in the pan and its own heat. I like to think that this helps to develop flavour.
Then dish up, garnish with some parmesan cheese and enjoy your green risotto.
Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2020-07-08