I admire Italians, profoundly, for taking simple ingredients and creating extraordinary dishes. Think osso bucco, polenta, rice, pasta with seafood, marinara sauce, ragú, and so many others.
Risotto is one of my favorite ways to eat rice. Well made it´s a dish where flavors complement each other yet all have their own voice. The final risotto must be creamy and when you serve it will fall onto the plate like very thick, chunky soup. That silkiness is achieved by the rice´s own starch, that´s why not every rice is the right one for making risotto, and the final addition of butter and cheese, done off the heat, followed by immediate plating and eating.
Risotto, like a soufflé, waits for no one, well it waits a little longer than the soufflé but still.
This is a lighter version, with very little butter and cheese but an immense amount of flavor. Very good flavor. The reduced fat will give you a not so creamy risotto, so the flavors have to be spot on.
The apples are cooked two ways, one part melts into the risotto from the beginning and the other half is browned quickly and added at the end for crunch and texture.
It´s very important that you choose good quality ham and parmesan because you´ll be using a small quantity of each, so their flavors have to come through.
And finally the thyme. I find it essential. But then, I find the combination of apples, ham and thyme a fantastic one.
Now, if you have picky eaters you can omit the apples, double the ham and add another cheese such as cheddar, and maybe some spinach. But then you´d have to change the name, wouldn´t you?
And if you like the flavors but want a regular, creamy risotto, just triple the amount of butter and cheese and add it at the end, and double the amount of rice.
Either way it´s a winner.
APPLE AND HAM RISOTTO
adapted from The Best American Recipes 2000, by F.McCullough and S. Hamlin
2 to 3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
3 teaspoons butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 apple, I use granny smith
2/3 cups uncooked rice, such as arborio, carnaroli or vialonne nano
¼ cup white wine
1 oz. (30g) natural baked ham, cut into strips
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 Tbs fresh
2 Tbs grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbs fresh chopped parsley
Bring broth to a simmer in a saucepan.
Peel and core apple. Cut one half into medium dice and finely chopp the other half
In a large skillet, melt 1 teaspoon butter, add diced apples and sauté over high heat until lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl or plate and reserve.
To the same skillet add remaining butter and oil over medium heat. Add shallots, the chopped apple and cook for 1 minute, careful not to brown it too much. Add the rice and stir constantly to coat with the butter for 1 or 2 minutes. Add wine and let it reduce. Add thyme and ham.
Start adding hot broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring once in a while until the broth is reduced and almost dissapears. Continue adding ½ cup broth until the rice is plump but firm to the bite. It will take from 15 to 20 minutes. Don´t let the rice become too soft.
Remove from heat and add parmesan and parsley. You can add an extra teaspoon of butter or oil at this point. Mix well and serve immediately, adding reserved apples at the end.