Monday, May 7, 2012

bacon, egg and leek risotto

bacon, egg and leek risotto

Seeing as I once argued that rice pudding should be breakfast food (what? grains, milk, a bit of sugar, sometimes berries — just like oatmeal!) it shouldn’t be any surprise that I’m now wondering if risotto could also be welcome in the earliest parts of the day. I mean, what if contained bacon and eggs? What if I warned you that if you start making risotto with leeks and bacon and finish it with a fried egg that you might not be able to go back to eating it another way? You can’t say I didn’t give you a heads-up.

leeks, still gritty
cooking, not crisping, the pancetta

I got the inspiration for breakfast risotto from an article I saw a few months back. Okay, it was many months. And every time I was about to make it, I found something better to do. Like, flossing. Or chasing my toddler around the apartment with a comb, trying to explain that he would one day thank me for not letting him leave the house looking like an unkempt Muppet. (Obviously, it didn’t work.) Eventually I had to admit that risotto, while lovely to eat when someone else makes it, is hardly my favorite way to dirty pots and pans. It’s the stirring, and also the starchiness; it’s the sleepiness of the usual inclusions (maybe mushrooms, asparagus and other delicately-minded green things), and that always requires that you make something else (a salad, or maybe some protein) that will make it seem more of a balanced meal. Risotto: It’s awfully demanding.

prep: pancetta, leeks, rice, cheese

toasting the onion and rice
almost there

Which is all the more reason that the risotto approximation of breakfast, replete with bacon, runny eggs, cheese and leeks is nothing short of brilliant. Of course, with my put-an-egg-on-it approach to turning anything (fried rice? check. bean stew? check.) into a meal, you probably already know that this needn’t just be breakfast, or even lunch. It was, in fact, dinner for us the other night, a most luxurious one before we all hopped on a plane for a week on the beach, one I’m looking at now from a balcony while the other two-thirds of my little family snore the afternoon away, all gritty toes and freckled noses. It’s not at all hard to get used to.

bacon, egg and leek risotto

Whoa: I know I should say something here about that last little thing that I shared — the cover of the forthcoming smitten kitchen cookbook, a recipe preview, some details — and I’ve been trying for days but you’ve rendered me, likely for the first and last time in my life, speechless. I had no idea. I … thought it was tacky to ask people to buy a book six months before they’ll even get to see it. I thought it was tiresome to click over to a new recipe and have endure a speech about a side project. I am immensely uncomfortable with self-promotion, and that was a hard post to write. But you guys made it so much fun to be empirically, categorically wrong. I will now hold my breath until you all have it in your hands, crossing my fingers that you will have found it worth the wait, and that the pages will be sticky and splattered from overuse in no time. Thank you.

One year ago: Ribboned Asparagus Salad with Lemon and Creme Brulee French Toasts
Two years ago: Avocado Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing, Homemade Pop Tarts, Cabbage and Lime Salad with Roasted Peanuts and Leek Bread Pudding
Three years ago: Black Bread, Ranch Rugelach, and Cinnamon Raisin Bagels
Four years ago: Pizza Bianca, Brownie Roll-Out Cookies, and Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad
Five years ago: Margarita Cookies, Tequila Lime Chicken + Green Onion Salad and Chicken Empanadas with Chorizo and Olives

Bacon, Egg and Leek Risotto

I mentioned that the recipe was inspired by an article but I’d prefer not link to it because, while I’m sure the restaurant that serves it does so splendidly, the recipe as written was a mess of bad cooking times and impossible ingredient levels. Essentially, I’d rather talk about it only behind it’s back. I rewrote it and tweaked the ingredients a little too. The idea was wonderful; this execution should work for everyone.

Yield: Six small or four large servings

6 cups low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable broth, but best to have an extra splash or two around if needed
1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped bacon (from about 4 slices) or pancetta
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large or 3 smaller leeks, quartered lengthwise, cleaned of grit, and chopped small
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more to fry eggs
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups arborio, carnaroli, or another short-grained Italian rice
1/3 cup dry white wine or vermouth (read why here)
1 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish if desired
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 to 6 large eggs, you’ll want one per serving

Place stock or broth in a small-medium saucepan over very low heat on a back burner. You want to have it heated until steamy when you add it in a bit, but not so much that it simmers and loses volume.

Heat a second medium saucepan (3 quarts) or skillet over medium heat. Add bacon or pancetta and cook until it renders its fat, and is tender and just barely crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside, leaving whatever dripping you can in the pan. Add a tablespoon of oil to the bacon fat if needed, then add the leeks. Cook leeks on medium-low for 10 to 12 minutes, until softened and mostly tender. Transfer to bowl with bacon and set aside, leaving stove on.

Add butter to pan and, once melted, cook onion in butter until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Add rice and cook sauté until faintly toasted, about 4 minutes. Add wine or vermouth and cook until it almost disappears, about 2 minutes. Ladle 1 cup of hot broth into the rice mixture and simmer until it absorbs, stirring frequently. Add remaining broth 1/2 cup at a time, allowing broth to be absorbed before adding more and stirring frequently until rice is al dente, about 25 to 30 minutes. What you’re looking for in well-cooked risotto is a creamy but loose dish. When ladled onto a plate, it should spill into a creamy puddle, not heap in a mound. You might need an extra splash of broth to loosen it. When you achieve your desired texture and tenderness, stir in the cheese, bacon and leeks. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into serving bowls.

Then, quickly, in a small skillet, heat a pat of butter over medium-high and swirl it to coat the pan. Crack one egg into the skillet, season with salt and pepper and reduce heat to medium. I like to cover the skillet with a small lid at this point, as it seems to help the egg cook faster and more evenly. In one minute, you should have a perfect sunny-side-up egg. Transfer to your first bowl of risotto and repeat with remaining eggs. Garnish each with an extra bit of grated parmesan and eat immediately.


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