This was one of the fabulous dishes we learned to cook on our recent trip to Italy with Chef Jody Adams, and the gang from ItaliaOutdoors. This risotto is packed with flavor, but is relatively “light” as risottos go, there is NO cream, and not a lot of butter and cheese to speak of. I know…I know, it’s hard for you to believe that I can like it so much given that it isn’t just swimming in fat, to be honest, as someone that’s used to lots of cream, butter or cheese in my risotto, I was a little shocked myself.
What makes this dish so exciting is the classic juxtaposition of sweet (from the figs) and bitter (from the radicchio), toss in a little saltiness from the cheese, and the earthy richness of the rice and red wine, and you have a dish in perfect balance, without unnecessary fat and calories. As you all know, I’m not exactly afraid of fat, but if I don’t NEED it in a dish, I don’t WANT it in a dish.
Fess-up time. I’ve never really cared for radicchio. As much as I love bitter greens like arugula and escarole, I’ve never taken a liking to radicchio….until now. Jody’s original recipe calls for raw radicchio, cut into chiffonade (thin ribbons) to be tossed into the risotto, but on the trip we ended up using some leftover marinated radicchio from a prior cooking class. I liked the dish this way SO MUCH, that unless you are a huge fan of the bitterness of raw radicchio, I recommend you take the additional step of marinating it first. It is great in this risotto, and any leftovers would make a terrific addition to a salad or antipasti course.
Blanching and marinating the radicchio also made this dish MUCH more palatable to the kids. While their first reaction, upon seeing the purple hued rice in their bowls, was underwhelming (“it looks like you poured cough syrup in the food”), once they took a bite and got a taste of the salty/sweet/slightly bitter explosion going on in their mouths, they got over their color bias in a hurry.
A little bit of chopping, and lots of stirring make this a perfect dish to cook with your kids, even fairly young ones. Luckily Boris has been working out as of late, and his guns were up to the task of stirring the risotto to creamy perfection. Many people will tell you that you need to stir risotto constantly to achieve the texture you are shooting for, I don’t believe that. You must stir frequently, but not constantly. Of course, if you have a young one like my Boris hanging about who could use the workout, save that little fact for a later date, and have them stir away.
Lest you think I am totally heartless, I did instruct him to take a ten second break every ten minutes….it seemed sufficient. 😉
My friends at ItaliaOutdoors are compiling a regional food dictionary of foods of the Veneto region of Italy, and have graciously shared their links with me. Click here to learn more about the famed Radicchio di Treviso, and here to see what their saying about rice and risotto.
Enjoy – Steve
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 cup arborio or carnaroli rice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups red wine
- 1 medium or 2 small head radicchio, cut into chiffonade (*or even better marinated, the recipe is below)
- 8 dried Turkish figs, finely chopped or 6 fresh figs, cut into eighths
- 5 cups warm chicken broth
- 2/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
- finely minced fresh rosemary
- 4 heads radicchio
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ tablespoon salt
- ½ teaspoon juniper berries
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Place the chicken stock into a medium saucepan and heat. Keep warm.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. When the foam subsides, add the onions and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender. Add the rice, increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add the wine and cook until reduced to a glaze. Add the radicchio and the figs and stir until the radicchio has wilted.
- Add the chicken stock to the rice mixture, ½ cup at a time, stirring occasionally, and allow the stock to be absorbed before each new addition. It should take 30 minutes or so to cook the rice to the al dente stage and there should be ½ cup of stock that remains.
- Remove from the heat, and stir in the remaining butter and the grated parmesan cheese. Keep warm.
- Serving options: Top with half of a grilled fig and a sprinkling of the minced rosemary. Loosen the risotto with the reserved stock just before serving if you wish.
- Cut the radicchio into quarters. Combine the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil, in a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and cook 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the radicchio, cover, and cook for 8 minutes, or until a sharp knife cuts easily through the root. Drain.
- Cover with the olive oil, refrigerate, and allow to sit for at least 6 hours, and up to 1 week.
- Cut 2 of the heads into chiffonade before proceeding with the risotto recipe, reserve the others for another use.