The inspiration behind this dish comes directly from one of my favourite Cape Town chefs, Stefan Marais from Societi Bistro. He makes some of the best risotto I have ever eaten, and one particular version stood out for me and inspired me to make this dish. His pancetta and apple risotto which I ate at the restaurant in June.
At the end of the meal I asked him how he made it (as I do), but I had had a little bit of wine (as I do), so got the jist of it and it was a few months back, so here is my version of what I think are a stunning combination of flavours.
I thoroughly enjoy making risotto, although its fairly laborious, I find all the stirring quite therapeutic and almost meditative. The task is best enjoyed when making it for a friend, hanging out in the kitchen with a glass of wine firmly in the other hand.
There are basic principles to master when making risotto, and its really a sensory thing. Knowing when the rice has reached the correct texture, how much liquid to add before it becomes too stodgy but you still get a lovely velvety sauce. I find it all quite easy.
My friend Neill Anthony is a chef that has cooked in Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen in London and reckons there is a fantastic technique whereby if you parboil the risotto rice for 7 minutes before making the dish, you drastically reduce the stirring time. I decided to give it a bash.
So this is what you need to make a portion for 2 people:
- 250gms arborio / risotto rice
- 1 brown onion finely chopped
- 1 Granny Smith apple peeled and chopped into smallish cubes
- about 100gms of dry cured smoked streaky bacon or even better pancetta chopped into small pieces
- 2 cloves of garlic crushed
- 1/2 glass of dry wine
- about 500-600ml of chicken stock (hot). I used Nomu Chicken Fond
- a small handful of thyme leaves taken off the stalk
- 1 knob of butter
- olive oil
- salt and black pepper
- grated Parmesan (for sprinkling)
- roasted pine kernels (optional)
How to make this:
- I pre boiled the risotto rice for 7 minutes
- in a large pot or wide high sided pan, fry the bacon and onion for a few minutes until the fat starts rendering out
- as the onions start to soften, add the apple and cook for a further 3 – 4 minutes
- add the garlic and the par boiled rice and coat in the fat, bacon, onion, garlic and apple mix
- add the wine and allow the liquid to cook off
- add the thyme
- then slowly start adding the hot chicken stock bit by bit, stirring continuously until the liquid has been absorbed
- when you feel that the rice is nearly done but still a bit al dente, add the last bit of stock to make the sauce
- stir in a know of butter and allow this to melt in
- check the seasoning and add salt and pepper
- serve with heaps of grated Parmesan and sprinkle over chopped parsley or a few more thyme leaves and toasted pine kernels
I did find that the rice cooked a lot quicker (about half the time) when par boiled, but I felt when you drain it, you lose some of the starch that gives the risotto its creaminess and I found the risotto a bit too dry (don’t rinse). So I’m going to go back to doing it from uncooked (unless in a mad hurry).
What I love is that a lot of the apple dissipates into the risotto leaving small slightly firm chunks. They are no longer that sweet since being cooked in, and having absorbed the savoury stock.
Delicious and perfect winter comfort food.