You live, you learn. Case in point? The great cookie disaster of 1996.
In December of that year, during my senior year in college, I decided I wanted to show my friends how much I loved them. With Christmas fast approaching, cookies seemed the natural way to do that. So, in my little residence hall kitchen, I baked up batches and batches of the things. Unfortunately for my friends, I did that baking during the height of the “lettuce and tuna” phase of my life, which means I baked “healthy” cookies…with applesauce instead of butter…and Equal instead of sugar.
Some of those friends still speak to me.
Eighteen years later, I am a far wiser and saner woman. Now, when I want to show my friends how much I love them, I make risotto.
This little act of generosity is, of course, fine by them. More than fine, actually. That’s because there is nothing that comes out of my kitchen that my friends like better than risotto. They don’t care what kind it is— Sausage and Tomato, Butternut Squash, Lemon and Scallops, Roasted Cauliflower and Pancetta, Spring Vegetables, Seafood, or today’s offering, Bacon and Sage. They eat it all.
The good thing is, there’s also nothing I like cooking better than risotto. When I’m standing over a pot of steaming, bubbling rice, I am Babette, stirring love, not just broth, into the dish.
All food is sacramental—a sign of God’s love and an occasion for grace. But risotto strikes me as more sacramental than most. I think it’s the constant stirring, the constant attention, the constant connection with the food. Cooking risotto demands more of me, and so it ends up giving more of me, more of my love, to those I serve.
Then, of course, when it comes to this particular dish, there’s the bacon.
Risotto has a reputation for being a difficult dish to do well. That reputation is mostly undeserved. It needs time and attention, yes, (which is why so few American restaurants get it right), but it’s Italian peasant food, not haute cuisine, and any person willing to give it the time and attention required can make this and make it well.
Granted, if you’re regularly pulled away from dinner prep to change a diaper, you might want to save this recipe for when other diaper changers are present.
It also helps to have all the ingredients prepped before you get to the actual cooking of the risotto. So, chop the onions, mince the garlic, fry up the bacon, shred that cheese, and chop the sage before you even look at your rice.
The great thing about this particular recipe is that the ingredients are cheap, simple, and likely to be in your pantry on any given day: rice, chicken broth, bacon, sage, onion, garlic, butter, and parmesan. And I mentioned bacon, right? Hmmmm….bacon.
Oh, and if you have brussel sprouts in the fridge, all the better. Roasted, with garlic, olive oil, and salt, they mix in beautifully with the creamy, bacony goodness.
Bacon & Sage Risotto
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 25-30 minutes
- 8 slices bacon
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 T. bacon grease, reserved
- 3 T. butter
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- .5 cup white wine
- 6-8 cups chicken broth
- 1 small bunch of sage (.6 ounce), roughly chopped
- 2/3 cup Parmesan, shredded
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Prep all your ingredients: Chop the onion, mince the garlic, shred the cheese, and roughly chop the sage. Then, set them aside.
- In a medium-sized stock pot, bring the broth to a simmer (not a boil!).
- Chop the uncooked bacon into 1-2″ pieces. Fry in a large pot until it’s as done as you like it to be (but not burnt!).Then, drain the bacon onto a paper towel. Pour off the grease, reserving 2 tablespoons for the next step.
- Heat the reserved bacon grease plus 1 tablespoon of butter in the same large pot over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the onions and cook until translucent (about 3-5 minutes).
- Add garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds more.
- Add rice. Mix in with the onions and garlic and allow the rice to toast for about 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t burn.
- Increase the heat to medium-high. Add wine. Stir until absorbed.
- Begin adding broth slowly, one ladleful at a time. After you’ve added the first ladle of broth, stir the rice until the liquid is absorbed (about 1 minute). Then, add the next ladleful. Repeat until the rice is creamy and soft, but firm to the bite (al dente.)
- Remove from heat. Add in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and parmesan. Stir vigorously until combined.
- Add in sage and bacon. Stir, then taste before adding salt and pepper. (I added just slightly more than .25 teaspoon of salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder.) Serve immediately.
- Did I mention you should have all your ingredients prepped before you begin? Seriously, do this.
- Don’t worry about what kind of white wine you use. I usually keep a bottle in the fridge, left over from a party. Freshness is not key here. Nor is quality. The cheap stuff works just fine.
- Risotto is a very indecisive dish. It never really knows how much broth it wants until it has it. That’s why the ingredients say 6-8 cups. Typically, for two cups of Arborio rice, uncooked, I use about 7 cups of broth. But depending on the day and the ingredients, I might use slightly more or slightly less. That’s why, towards the end of the cooking process, you just have to keep tasting. If the rice is crunchy, it needs more liquid. Keep adding more broth, one ladleful at a time, until the crunch is gone.
- How do you know when to add more broth? Two ways. First, by sight: If most of the liquid looks like it’s been sucked up by the rice, add more. Second, by sound: Risotto gets louder and louder the thirstier it gets. It will hiss and pop. When it does this, give it a drink.
- The bacon, parmesan, and chicken broth all bring a certain amount of saltiness to the dish. Accordingly, you may not feel the need to add any salt at the end. Or, like me, you may decide the dish needs just a little more. Taste first. Then season.
- I love sage in this dish, but if you don’t have any on hand, rosemary or parsley will do nicely too. And if you’ve got no fresh herbs, don’t sweat it. The bacon can hold its own.
- Risotto needs almost constant attention. So, when I say stir constantly, I pretty much mean that. Yes, you can turn away for 15-30 seconds to wash a pan, drink some wine, or discipline a child, but mostly you need to be standing over the stove. That being said, the constant stirring is more important at the beginning then at the end, when you can walk away for a minute or two (but not much more) without hurting the dish.