Improved Smoked Cheese Risotto
I have a severe case of post-vacation depression. NOT that I don’t miss my kids achingly on each and every trip, and want to tell’em about places where they could potentially live in the next life where they’d be allowed into every eateries (woof!) and
crumbs shops PATISERIES (woof! woooof!). But for reasons beyond me, they instead insist on residing in a city that I loathe full-heartedly. Not an uncommon problem among modern parents I guess. So every time I return home, my kitchen becomes a laboratory for recreating things that I crave from each trip to ease the symptoms (which, if left untreated, could develop into doomsday-scale meltdowns). The shwarma sandwich from Paris. The laksa from Malaysia. Bonci’s pizza bianca from Rome. Oh, right. Rome. Well, about that… I haven’t told you everything yet.
I guess this is where I OMG you about the most amazing thing I had there – which in fact there were many because when in Rome… – and tell you how I recreated it. But this is not that kind of post. Actually, this is about a really great dish I ate which, call me crazy, I thought could be GREATER. In the lovely restaurant called Nonna Betta in the charming Jewish Ghetto, I ordered the only risotto dish on this entire trip and it was a red radicchio risotto with smoked cheese. It was lovely. The radicchio brought a slight bitterness and a beautiful purple hue to the party, then on top of it… now this is where I had a slight issue with… there was a small mount of shredded smoked cheese.
Right. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I’m sure that a good amount of Parmigiano is already mixed into the risotto before serving. The chef then sprinkle some cheese on top at the end, blah blah blah… We all do it. But the man-it’s-cold-outside-and-I’ve-walked-about-100-miles-on-this-trip me couldn’t escape the thought that it wouldn’t hurt if a good big handful of that smoked cheese is stirred and melted into the risotto, do a little mingling then come stringy and cheesy as a whole into my well-deserved tummy? I mean is that criminal? This thought has been haunting me even after the vacation was long gone and so I decided to put it to rest. And let me just say… I URGE you to have this on your table before a blink of an eye later when the weather becomes more bikini-friendly, and you could longer use an oversized sweater to hide the fact that you had an obscene amount of cheese melted into your risotto last night. Because this, is simply too good to wait till next year.
Red radicchio is hard to find here so I substituted with red cabbage which is equally phenomenal but without the slight bitterness. I am not a fan of an overwhelming smokiness in… well… anything, so I would partially remove the outer rind/skin of the smoked cheese to reduce the intensity. But you could be your own judge of that.
- 1 1/2 cup of arborio rice
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 4 tbsp of pancetta or guanciale, diced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1/2 purple cabbage, finely shredded
- 6 ~ 8 cups of really good quality chicken stock (or make your own)
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 cup of shredded smoked cheese (smoked mozzarella or smoked gruyere) with rind/skin removed (optional), plus more to sprinkle at the end
- Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
Keep 6~7 cups of chicken stock at a low simmer in a stock pot. Heat up 1 tbsp of olive oil in a dutch oven on medium heat and start rendering the diced pancetta (or I’m using guanciale). Once it gives out its fat and is nicely browned, add the onion and garlic with a pinch of salt. Saute until the onion becomes translucent. Then add the shredded cabbage and cook until slightly wilted, approx 2 min.
Add the arborio rice. Stir and cook until every grain is coated with oil and starts to stick to the pot slightly. Add 3 cups of chicken stock and keep the mixture at a simmer. Keep stirring once every 5 min to prevent sticking and never let the liquid run dry. Keep the rice shallowly “submerged” in stock and add 2 cups more every time it runs out. Keep doing it until the rice is cooked through but still retains a bite to it. You will need approx 6~8 cups of stock.
Once the rice reaches desired done-ness, stop adding stock. Stir the shredded smoked cheese into the risotto and mix it in until fully melted. Re-season with salt and pepper.
Serve with more shredded cheese and freshly grated Parmigiano.