I did not grow up eating risotto. It was not a dish on the menus of the many fine Italian-American restaurants in Memphis we ate at during my childhood. When it started to become a common and trendy dish, for many years, I assumed it was some sort of chef-secret dish that couldn’t be created at home (a silly thought now I know). Once I realized that at its heart, risotto is simple fare that takes only a little patience, it became a comfort favorite for me. I love a creamy, homey bowl of risotto, and I find the stirring meditative and relaxing. One of the joys of cooking is watching plain ingredients transform into something altogether luxurious, and no dish is more an example of that than witnessing grains of rice release their starch into a luscious, creamy creation layered with flavors and sophistication.
I make risotto with all sorts of flavors – like my Carrot and Dill version, or the seasonal Squash Blossom iteration. Sometimes I go plain with just a dose of parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, sometimes I stir in fresh tomato sauce from my summer stash. But the point is, I usually make it only for myself. When you have guests to serve, standing over the stove stirring a pot of rice isn’t always feasible or friendly. I’ve tried baked versions, restaurant tricks for preparing it partially ahead, even a slow cooker method. But none have ever been completely satisfying. Until this springform version. Eggs hold the whole thing together and ricotta keeps the final result creamy. I tend to let the edges get slightly crispy, which adds an extra touch of texture, and I love the gooey layer of cheese oozing from the center. The presentation is pretty impressive too. Unmold the dish onto a pretty platter and add a sprinkle of fresh herbs for color.
My favorite risotto indulgence that I make for myself on special occasions uses salty pancetta, woodsy marjoram and aromatic taleggio. These flavors meld together beautifully to make a very pungent and unique whole. I have used the combination to top pizza and focaccia as well. But once you get the hang of this risotto cake, you can use any flavors you like.
- 4 ounces diced pancetta
- 1 large shallot, finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 ¾ cups Arborio rice
- 1 cup white wine
- 4 - 5 cups chicken broth
- 3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh marjoram
- ¾ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 large eggs
- 4 ounces grated parmesan cheese
- 7 ounces taleggio cheese
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the pancetta in a large, deep skillet over medium high heat, until it is browned and crispy and has released its fat. Remove the pancetta to a paper-towel lined plate with a slotted spoon. You need about 2 Tablespoon of fat in the pan, so add some olive oil if the pancetta hasn't produced enough. Drop in the shallots and cook until glassy and soft, then add the garlic and cook for just about a minute - do not let it brown. Stir in the rice, coating it well with the fat, and cook for a few minutes until the edges of the grains begin to turn translucent. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring, until the wine is completely absorbed. Add the broth a cup at a time, stirring frequently, letting the rice absorb each cup before stirring in the next. After you've added two cups, stir in half of the marjoram and about a quarter of the pancetta. After adding four cups test to see that the rice is soft, but still with a little bite, then add liquid just until it reaches that point. Season well with salt and pepper. When the risotto is cooked, transfer it to a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil or parchment and spread it out to cool.
- While the risotto cools, cut the rind off the taleggio. It is easier to do this while the cheese is cold. Slice the taleggio into thin slices and set aside. Brush the inside and bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with olive oil.
- In a large bowl (or the pan you cooked the risotto in), whisk together the ricotta, eggs and parmesan cheese until smooth and combined. Add the risotto, remaining marjoram and pancetta and stir until everything is combined and well distributed. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Spread half of the risotto in the prepared pan and spread it out in an even layer. Drape half of the sliced taleggio over the top of the rice, distributing it evenly. Spread the rest of the risotto in the pan and press it down into an even layer. Place the rest of the taleggio over the top of the rice cake.
- At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the dish for several hours. When ready to bake, take the pan out of the fridge to take the chill off. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees then bake the risotto for 30 - 35 minutes, until the edges are golden, the cheese is melted and the center is heated through. Let the cake sit for about 10 minutes before removing the side of the pan, cutting into wedges and serving.
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