This past spring, I suddenly became hell-bent on making risottos. I hate to admit this, but I think I was inspired by Gordon Ramsay and "Hell's Kitchen." I probably should not admit publicly that I watch that show, but I do. It's not clear what draws me in more -- the way Chef Ramsay abuses the cooks, or the way the shell-shocked, hapless cooks respond. It can't possibly be the actual cooking. The focus is less on cooking and more on the kitchen disasters that inspire the title of the show.
I can not recall which season it was, but risotto was on the menu. What stuck in my mind was Chef Ramsay at the pass, waiting for an order of risotto. He barked at the poor line cook, "I need one risotto urgently." Why did that stick in my mind? Who knows, but it did. Risotto became the dish to watch. What I found strange was how it was prepared on "Hell's Kitchen." The rice was pre-cooked and then mixed with the stock and seasonings. It was probably because everything was supposed to be made-to-order. While I knew little about preparing risotto, I did know that using partially cooked rice was not the authentic way. Far be it from me to argue with the great and combative Gordon Ramsay.
But, you're supposed to stand over the stove, sweating (but not in the rice, of course) and wearing your arms out with stirring the stock into the rice until it's cooked. By the time that process finishes, you're probably too exhausted to enjoy the fruit of your labor. I was undaunted. So I set about looking in my cookbooks to find a good risotto recipe.
I found one that featured Swiss chard and mushroom. That one came out well. Then I became bold. I looked in my refrigerator and suddenly felt inspired to be creative. I saw portabella mushrooms, spinach, thick Primrose brand bacon, heavy cream, butter and gorgonzola cheese. Can you smell that combination of ingredients?? I thought that I had died and gone to risotto heaven.
My cousin, Wanda, emailed about my blog. She said that she could do without the pork. So, cuz -- you can make this risotto (on Sunday, when you cook for your family, assuming that you still do that) without the bacon. For you meat eaters, I strongly recommend Primrose brand bacon. It's thick and flavorful and doesn't disappear when you cook it, unlike weaker, thinner brands.
Let me add one more point. I've made several risotto recipes now and I find that they they all underestimate the amount of chicken stock needed. Most recipes call for between 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups of arborio (short grain) rice and between 4 to 6 cups of chicken stock. I've used at least 7 -9 cups of chicken stock each time I've made risotto, so be sure to have at least that amount on hand.
Spinach-Mushroom Risotto with Gorgonzola Cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4-5 pieces of thick bacon (I am a fan of Primrose)
2-3 cups of spinach
1 1/2 cups of portabella mushrooms, sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
7-9 cups of chicken stock
1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese (more if you're really into it)
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the bacon until it's crisp. Cut into small pieces and set aside. Saute the spinach, mushrooms and shallot in the a little of the bacon drippings (To me,this adds more flavor. Vegetarians, use olive oil.) until soft. Don't add salt, as the cheese and stock may be salty enough. You can add a little black pepper, though. Set aside.
Put the chicken stock in a large sauce pan and heat over low-medium heat. I like to infuse it with fresh rosemary. Put one long piece in the stock. Let the stock become hot, but don't boil it.
Heat the olive oil over a low flame in a large pan. Add the arborio rice and mix until the oil coats the rice. Add the white wine and stir until it is absorbed. Add the chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir constantly until the stock is absorbed. Keep doing this. Make sure you taste the rice periodically to see whether it's tender. Add the stock until the rice reaches the desired degree of softness.
Add the butter, heavy cream and cheese. Stir until combined. Now add the vegetable mixture. Depending on whether you used salted stock, you may need little to no salt at all. Add fresh thyme and fresh ground pepper.