ham & cheese risotto

Ok, I know ham and cheese risotto sounds weird. But bear with me.

As you know, I’ve been cooking with the goodies I brought back from the Salone di Gusto last week in Torino. And as you also know I loaded up on things like beans, lentils, various salami and – yes – chocolate. My husband, Domenico, is another story. He was on his own quite a bit at the Salone, while I was interviewing chefs and artisans and attending various workshops. Even though I told him we didn’t need more ham and cheese, that is always what seemed to make it into his bag.

He was particularly attracted to the ‘foreign’ section of the Salone. This is where all the non-Italian countries had their wares on sale. This means I now find myself with a pantry full of things like English bacon and Swiss cheeses. (and palm oil and peanut butter from Uganda, but that’s a future post).
So, when deciding what to make for dinner tonight I opened the fridge and there was all this bacon, asking to be used – and quickly – before it went bad. And a few smallish pieces of quite good emmenthal and gruyere.

Also, I have to add that it’s gotten cold in Rome the last few days, so risotto sounded like a good idea for many reasons.

While I usually make vegetable-based risotti, I remembered a dish I used to make back in the early 90’s. It was risotto made with a sherry called Soledad that Lungarotti produced for a few years. It was very fashionable for a while, in certain circles in Rome, but then just sort of disappeared. I guess because Lungarotti stopped making sherry.

I decided to recreate it, with a few changes. Instead of prosciutto cotto, I had the canadian bacon. And of course the parmigiano was turned into gruyere and emmentaler. Forget the sherry, I just used some pinot grigio I had in the fridge.

Even though I had some great rice I bought at the Salone (more on that later) I decided to be a good housekeeper and  use up what I had in my pantry first. I had recently bought a box of mixed grains: rice, oats and kamut. I decided that at the very least, we would be eating healthy whole grains, buried under all that buttery ham and cheese.

Ham and Cheese Risotto
serves 4

400 gr of mixed grains (feel free to experiment, or use arborio rice to be more traditional)
1 small onion
3 slices canadian bacon (or ham)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup white wine
1 cup grated cheese (high quality emmenthal or gruyere)
3 cups of broth*
1/4 tsp nutmeg

In a pot large enough to hold the risotto, warm the olive oil and add the bacon, which you’ve cut into 1/2 inch size pieces. Let it cook for about four minutes, and then remove and set aside with a slotted spoon.
Add 1 Tblsp. of the butter to the pot, and add the finely chopped onion.
When softened, add the rice and stir for about four minutes, until the rice is really coated with the buttery onions.
Add the wine, and cook until it has evaporated.
Slowly add the warm broth, about a half cup at a time, until the rice or grains are tender.
Lower heat and add the grated nutmeg and bacon. Stir well.
Add the grated cheese, a bit at a time, stirring so it melts.
Turn off heat and add other Tablespoon of butter. Stir well, and serve top with fresh black pepper.

*One of the secrets to great risotto is, of course, using good broth. But one of the secrets in my house, is that I almost never have any on hand. Who does really? I certainly don’t use the nasty little Knorr cubes, but I do use powdered vegetable broth that I get at the organic store.

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