But ever since re-discovering our Italian roots during our Grand Voyage of Italy, we have been concentrating more on Italian recipes. Well, this time we though we'd combine the best of both worlds--French country cuisine with the height of Italian culinary skills--in the making of a great risotto. I think we succeeded with our Ratatouille & Risotto. It's perfect for autumn or winter--a stick to your ribs supper. But this dish has two distinct personalities... the obvious simplicity of making the ratatouille--basically a vegetarian peasant stew--and the technically demanding risotto.
Ratatouille is a very basic vegetable stew made in Provence and around Nice in southern France. It uses several basic ingredients: eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onion and pepper. There are many variations on the recipe, but the one I use is fairly rustic and traditional.
1 large Vidalia (sweet) onion - diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 medium sized eggplant-skinned, cut into 3/4 -1" cubes,
(the larger the eggplant, the more seeds and more bitterness)
5-6 whole garlic cloves
3-4 young, slim zucchini - skin on, sliced once lengthwise, then into 3/4" half moon slices,
(smaller & younger are more sweet and less seedy)
1-16 ounce can of diced tomatoes (I use Del Monte, oregano & basil spiced, in summer use fresh heirloom paste tomatoes)
1 cup chicken (or vegetable) broth
1/4 cup port wine
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons oregano
1 tablespoon rubbed sage
3 bay leaves (remove after cooking!)
40 cracks of fresh pepper (from a pepper mill, fine grind)
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
Olive oil for sauteing
- Saute the onions until clear in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium hot sauce pot, then add the diced peppers and cook for 3-4 minutes on a medium-low flame.
- Add the the eggplant and garlic cloves and saute for another few minutes.
- Then de-glaze the pan with the wine for a few minutes and then add the diced tomatoes and broth.
- Finally, add the zucchini and all the spices, stirring gently to incorporate the spices throughout the stew.
- Cook for another 45 minutes to an hour of until all the veggies are tender. Turn off the flame and set aside while you prepare the risotto. (Please remove the bay leaves before serving!)
We mainly use Arborio rice when we make risotto, but even better is if you can find Canaroli rice--it makes an even creamier risotto and is a bit more forgiving. The trick with making risotto is patience. It can take the better part of an hour or more--constantly adding broth and stirring--until the starchy exterior of the rice breaks down enough to make a creamy risotto, while still keeping a pasta-like "tooth" in the cooked rice. You don't want any crunch, there shouldn't be any mushy rice, and the texture when finished should be loose, glistening and creamy. While there are some tricks for making risotto faster, but there's no substitute for a strong arm and standing at the stove top for up to an hour...
2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
2 tablespoons light olive oil
1 medium sweet onion (or half a large Vidalia)-diced finely
1 cup dry white wine (Frascati or Pinot Grigio, or one of your choice)
6 cups of chick or vegetable broth, heated in a saucepan (for ladling into the rice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1-1/4 cups of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (plus additional for topping off the dish)
- Start by heating the broth in a small saucepan until barely simmering. Maintain this level of heat all the way through the cooking of the rice.
- Using a 12-14" saute pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat, then add the diced onion. Cook until the onions are translucent.
- Add the rice, stirring to coat the rice. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the rice is well coated and the outer surface of the rice looks translucent. You can add the salt at this point.
- Next, turn the heat down to medium low and add the wine. Stir until the wine is absorbed by the rice.
- The following step will be repeated until the rice is tender with barely an al dente bite... Take a ladle of hot broth and stir it into the rice. Keep stirring (preferably with a flat wooden spoon) until it is absorbed. Repeat, constantly stirring the rice all the way through the cooking. In case you've run out of broth, you can quickly heat up some water and use that to finish off the risotto until you reach the right texture.
- The last step is to add the butter and stir more vigorously (like a whipping motion) until it's melted and incorporated.
- Finally, add the cheese and mix thoroughly.
Some recipes say that this will take only 30-35 minutes, but I have found it takes me 45-65 minutes until the rice is cooked and getting creamy. Risotto should be served immediately when completed, so timing is key. But in the event you have to let your risotto sit for a bit, just leave covered, unheated... then before serving, revitalize it by heating it with a little bit more hot water on a medium low flame until the water is incorporated and it has reached the "wave" stage once again.
To service, place a portion of the risotto on your plates and add some ratatouille on top, toward one side (let the creamy risotto show itself off too). You decide to have a hearty Italian Chianti or a nice French Bordeaux with the dish... after all, it does have a split-personality.
I'd also like to add that the risotto recipes used in this dish is a basic risotto recipe. Once you learn how to make this, you can experience with adding all sorts of other things into the risotto... mushrooms, saffron, peas, shrimp, etc. And the ratatouille recipe is great topping a pizza, with pasta or even as a filling for a stuffed baked potato!