My favourite books to read while I’m on holiday are written by chefs about their lives, using a mixture of narrative and recipes to tell the story. I can actually quite happily read a normal cookbook like a novel but I’d have to bring a small library to keep me busy for two weeks so these keep me occupied a little longer and give me a few recipe ideas if I happen to need them.
My latest read is Dear Francesca by Mary Contini, the co-owner of the famous Italian delicatessen Valvona & Crolla. Its addressed to her daughter, telling the story of their family and how they came to Edinburgh from Italy. Strangely its the first one of her books Ive read but I loved it and Ive been plowing my way through the recipes since I got back home. There are some benefits to the Scottish climate… its cold enough to eat soup!
Besides a freezer full of soup, I finally got around to trying tomato risotto. I thought Nonna Marietta’s risotto al pomodoro was a pretty good recipe to start with. I intended originally to stick to the recipe but I had some mature scottish cheddar in the fridge and thought it would be an interesting alternative to Mary’s suggestion of adding chunks of fontina to the finished dish which melt into stringy pockets as they sit in the risotto. I thought since the book combines dishes from both countries, I wouldn’t be frowned upon by the author if she knew what I was up to.
The experiment didn’t disappoint and I am imagining all kinds of variations on my normal risotto recipes that I want to try with different base flavours and cheeses. This could turn into a very fattening winter (yes in case you are still telling yourself summer might turn up before we hit snow again, I hate to break it to you…its not coming).
Tomato Risotto with Smoked Pancetta and Mature Cheddar
I’ve written out Mary’s recipe with only a couple of small tweaks as I couldnt find a copy on the net but I wholly recommend you buy her book yourself so that you get the Italian mothering and instruction that my version is lacking.
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 75g butter
- 1 shallot peeled and finely chopped
- 150g smoked pancetta (the original recipe uses 200g but with the cheddar the smoked pancetta is very rich so a little less pares it back a bit)
- 200g risotto rice (I normally use 100g per person due to a paranoid fear of having too little but Mary’s original recipe uses 300g to serve 4)
- 200g Italian plum tomatoes, sieved (half a 400g tin)
- about 1-1.25 litre hot chicken stock (1 litre is enough for 200g rice)
- a handful of cubed mature cheddar
Heat the oil and 50g of the butter in a saucepan. Sauté the shallot until softened and transparent. Sauté the pancetta a little and then add the rice and stir around to let it toast. Add the sieved tomatoes and cook for a few minutes. Slowly start to stir in the stock, one ladle at a time. Stir everything and cook for about 20 minutes. When the rice is cooked stir in the remaining butter and divide between two bowls. Sprinkle over the cheddar cubes and gently push them into the rice so that they melt. You could also garnish with fresh herbs such as basil.
Serious comfort food! ♥