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Radicchio Stars in a Winter Risotto
Risotto has the reputation of being labor-intensive, but it’s not, particularly. You do need to stir it often, but not constantly. I’ve always thought that the risotto I make for myself comes out a little better than a larger batch—it’s worth noting that the best restaurants cook risotto to order, one or two portions at a time.
A perfect solo meal for a chilly night, this risotto features nutrient-rich radicchio, a member of the chicory family that Veneto growers are marketing as “the winter flower.” Radicchio rosso di Chioggia, familiar to us as the wine-red globes that are also found shredded in prepared salad green mixes, have been joined by several other varieties that differ more dramatically in appearance than in flavor. Early Treviso radicchio comes in compact elongated heads, while the splayed leaves of late Treviso resemble the plumage of an exotic bird. Variegato di Castelfranco, another variety, has tender cream-colored leaves speckled with red.
A head of radicchio is easy to use up, even for a solo cook. Plan on using some in salads and cook the rest. Whether the radicchio is grilled, braised or simmered (as in this risotto), cooking mellows its bitterness in a most appealing way.
RADICCHIO & MUSHROOM RISOTTO
Makes 1 generous serving
1 cup good-quality chicken broth (such as Pacific brand in an aseptic box)
2 teaspoons butter, divided
1 thin slice pancetta (unsmoked Italian bacon), cut in small pieces
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot or onion
1/2 cup shredded Italian radicchio
2 to 3 crimini or white mushrooms, halved and sliced
1/3 cup Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon white wine or dry white vermouth
1 to 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Kosher or sea salt (optional)
Combine the broth with 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan; bring to a simmer over low heat.
Melt 1 teaspoon of the butter in a small sauté pan or saucepan over medium heat. Cook the pancetta and shallot until the fat in the pancetta liquefies. Stir in the radicchio and mushrooms; cook until softened. Add the pepper.
Pushing the vegetables to one side of the pan, melt the remaining 1 teaspoon butter on the other side. Add the rice; cook and stir for about a minute, until it begins to sizzle. Add the wine and, when it has mostly evaporated, ladle in enough warm broth to barely cover the rice mixture. Adjust the heat so the liquid simmers briskly. When most of it has been absorbed, add more broth. Continue to stir often, adding broth as needed, until the rice is cooked through but still slightly firm in the center.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano; taste and add salt if needed. Add a little more broth for the risotto to “drink” while resting for about 5 minutes.
© Toni Lydecker
Toni Lydecker writes often on Italian cooking and is the author of Serves One: Meals to Savor When You’re on Your Own. For more of her writing and her cooking demo schedule, visit www.tonilydecker.com.