I rarely use specific recipes when making risotto – to me, risotto is a blank canvas, like pasta, waiting for the next combination of ingredients I can come up with to put in it. However, on our honeymoon last year, I was reading a particularly good issue of Food and Wine which featured this risotto recipe in an article about cruising the Mediterranean with Jacques Pepin. I went back to that issue recently, where I re-encountered this recipe and immediately decided to finally put this specific risotto on my weekly menu.
This risotto was a perfect blend of flavors. It really tasted like all of the great flavors in a good eggplant parmesan combined in each bite. The only changes I made were to add the fresh tomatoes later in the cooking process than they instruct, in order to preserve more of their fresh taste and texture, and to make sure that I cooked the risotto in the same pan as the eggplant, scraping up the browned bits into the rice. This gave the finished dish extra flavor. I also used butter to start the risotto instead of olive oil and added white wine as that’s just the traditional way that I know. A key ingredient in this dish is ricotta salata, which is a dried, crumbly cheese with a slightly smoky taste. We liked it with the ricotta salata, but Craig was less sure about it than I was. In keeping with the Mediterranean theme, I think this recipe would also work great with feta in place of the ricotta salata, and I might try that as well.
Eggplant and Tomato Risotto with Ricotta Salata
Recipe from: Food and Wine, May 2008
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine or vermouth
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth, for a fully vegetarian dish)
1 small Vidalia onion, minced
1 pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup crumbled ricotta salata (2 ounces)
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup julienned basil
1. In a large sauté pan with high sides (the same pan you want to use for the risotto), heat the olive oil. Add the eggplant and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned all over. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the eggplant to a bowl and set aside.
2. In a saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a rapid simmer. In the sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until thoroughly coated, about 2 minutes.
3. Add the wine and cook, stirring and scraping up the browned bits in the pan, until the wine is nearly absorbed. Add the hot stock 1 cup at a time and stirring until it is absorbed between additions. When the rice is about half cooked, add the chopped tomatoes, reserving a small handful for garnish. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and suspended in a creamy liquid, about 25 minutes total.
4. Remove the risotto from the heat. Vigorously stir in the remaining 1 Tbsp. butter, then stir in the ricotta salata and parmesan cheeses. Stir in the eggplant and basil, reserving a little basil for garnish. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to bowls. Garnish with reserved chopped tomatoes and basil. Serve right away.