bacon and apple risotto with garlic and thyme

bacon and apple risotto with garlic and thyme

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.

salty, creamy, sweet and crunchy

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.

winter comfort food at its best


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17 Responses to bacon and apple risotto with garlic and thyme

  1. Ana le Roux August 5, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    I see what you mean. It’s the Labour of love again. You want good taste, spend time making your dish. I do like the creaminess, that’s what gives it that special taste. Back to the wooden spoon ! Thanks Sam.

  2. Jane-Anne Hobbs August 5, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Sammy, your pics are just getting better and better. These are of a professional quality and I think you can give yourself a grand slap on the back. Lovely recipe too. x

  3. Sam August 5, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Thanks Jane-Anne, much appreciated. Its a steep learning curve, but I’m loving it so much 🙂

  4. Kristy August 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    Stunning post. The photos are absolutely gorgeous and the recipe sounds sublime.

  5. Sam August 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    Thanks Kristy :-). My ‘studio’ is really working out.

  6. Taylor Bailey August 6, 2011 at 12:07 am #

    Hi Sam, I just stumbled to your blog. I’m risotto fan, ‘think garlic will perfectly blend with the aromatic taste of apple. I love the looks of it.

  7. Sam August 6, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Thanks Taylor, the combo of flavours work really well. Sam

  8. PinkPolkaDot August 8, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    The risotto are looking absolutely wonderful!! Thanks for the tips! The styling and pics are beyond words…worldclass!

  9. pinkpolkadot August 8, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    LOL, Sam my second try on this one aswell – it seems I don’t have enough patience! 🙂 Wonderful post and thanks for the tips!

  10. Lori August 10, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    Oh my word – you have to make this for me! Bacon and apple…. AND risotto?! perfection.

  11. Sam August 10, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    Thanks Lori, will defs make for you.

  12. Kim July 25, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    Sam, I’m loving all your recipes and constructing dinner party menus in my head!
    How long roughly does risotto take if you don’t parboil it? And is it something you need to serve immediately, or can you cook it and then warm it up (or keep warm in oven?)


  13. Sam July 25, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    Fab Kim. It is never a good idea to make risotto in advance. You need to make it and serve it immediately. It is not always the easiest for entertaining unless your guests are in the kitchen with you. I love making it for one other person and then we can stand, drink wine and stir the risotto. You pretty much have to stir constantly. I also find its best cooked on high heat (gas) or an effective electric stove, as if it takes too long it tends to go too stodgy. There is a fine line between getting the sauce thick whilst keeping the rice al dente. This comes with practice.
    Sam x


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