Bacon Thyme Risotto

Happy 2011 everyone!  I thought I’d get us started by sharing one of the things I cooked for our New Year’s Eve dinner in.  Since my husband and I have been together, we have always spent New Year’s Eve at home and nearly every year, I’ve fixed a special dinner.  Tonight’s dinner was no exception, as I fixed Alton Brown’s 40 Cloves and a Chicken, wilted spinach (a family favorite here) and a bacon thyme risotto.

I am of the firm belief that bacon improves the flavor of most every dish, grains included.  Risotto is no exception, as many traditional recipes for this dish begin with rendering the fat from pancetta cut into lardons, removing the lardons and then returning them to the finished dish for added flavor.  I did the same with bacon, as I was unable to get any pancetta today while I was out and about.  I figured bacon would be a good substitute.  After all, it is bacon, which is meat candy.

Risotto is a dish that until about 5 years ago, I was clueless about.  I learned how to cook it at a mini cooking class sponsored by my alma mater during an alumni leadership weekend, and have made it several times since then because it is so stinkin’ easy to fix.  I’d always been under the misconception that it was a dish that took forever, but really, it’s one that just requires some babysitting and some patience.  Also, adding the stock while it is hot is key, and testing the toothiness of the rice grains as the cooking process happens is important.

The result of all this?  So. Totally. Worth it.

Bacon makes everything better, especially risotto!

This particular risotto uses a very rich chicken stock (hence the yellowy coloring of the rice), fresh thyme, some Parmesan cheese and of course, bacon.  Here’s how I did it.

You will need:

  • 1/2 cup Arborio rice (this is the gold standard for risotto.  Other rice types can be used, but Arborio yields a very creamy texture in the finished product due to all the starch released during the cooking process)
  • 3 cups HOT chicken stock (I kept mine in a saucepan on medium heat next to my risotto pan)
  • 4 slices bacon, cut into lardons, rendered of their fat (use the fat for another purpose.  I used it to wilt the spinach we ate)
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano (for the love of all that is holy, do NOT use that junk in the green shaker can)
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced garlic (you can also add a bit of minced onion, I omit it due to food allergy issues)

In a large skillet, heat your olive oil on medium-high heat.  Add the minced garlic (and onion, if you choose to add it here) and let saute for a minute or two.  Next, add the rice and stir so that all the grains get a nice coating of oil.  Allow the rice to brown slightly, about 3 minutes or so.

Add the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring constantly to incorporate the stock fully into the rice.  Turn the heat down to medium and continue stirring the rice and stock until you see that the rice has absorbed nearly all the liquid.  When you see that this has happened, add another ladle of hot stock to the pan and repeat two more times.  Remember to keep stirring.  Constant stirring of the rice-stock mixture is critical as it helps the rice to release its starches, giving it that creamy texture characteristic of risottos.  You will notice that while you stir, you will see the rice start to take on a creamy appearance.  It is a good idea toward the end of the cooking to sneak a grain of rice from the pan and test its doneness by biting into it.  The grain should not be completely mushy, but should feel a bit sticky when biting into it.  This whole process took me about 20-25 minutes.

Once the rice has absorbed the stock, you will notice it has increased in volume 3 or 4 fold.  At this point, stir in the lardons of bacon, the Parmesan and the fresh thyme.  Stir until the cheese is completely incorporated into the rice and serve hot.

This recipe served two as a side dish with no leftovers.  It can be doubled to feed more, or to have leftovers, but I am pretty sure there won’t be any.


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