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CHEF'S CORNER

 
Regional Italian Cooking - First in a series
Rosemary, Ham, and Fontina Risotto (with Truffles)

By Angelo DeCecco
 

If you watched the 2006 Winter Olympics from Turin, Italy, or as the Italians know it "Torino," you caught a glimpse of the famous Italian "Piemonte," the region famous for such epicurean delights as white truffles and Barolo, Barbera, and Barbaresco wines. The recipe featured here, is a hybrid from this region and its neighboring, less well-known region of Aosta.
 
The cooking of the Piemonte, or Piedmont, frequently features the fragrant white truffle, found around the roots of trees primarily in the hills around Alba. Its powerful musky aroma attracts the pigs and small dogs trained to hunt out this forest treasure. An alternative to the expensive truffle itself is truffle oil, made by submerging the truffle in fine oil until the oil is flavored with the delicious truffle taste. If you happen to come into possession of a truffle yourself, consider storing it in a jar surrounded by Arborio rice. The rice will absorb the truffle flavor and will grace your table with the flavor of the Piemonte for months to come.
 
To the northeast of Piemonte lies Aosta, the smallest region of Italy. This mountain region is an interesting mix of Italian, French, and Swiss culture, where your cholesterol count should never factor into choosing a dish! Aostan cuisine often includes the rich, fragrant cheeses of the area, including the famous Fontina, and entrees frequently feature meats and vegetables grilled on pieces of slate heated over a fire.
 
The recipe below features the flavors of both the Piemonte and Aosta. This delicious and hearty winter risotto is a meal in itself. In the true Italian tradition, however, it would serve as an exceptional first plate or side dish to another famous Piemonte dish, "Brasato al Barolo," Beef Braised in Barolo Wine. Treat yourself to this dinner, accompanied by a fine bottle of Barolo wine, for a special occasion. While Barolo is certainly a pleasure to your palate, it may not be such a pleasure for your wallet! Feel free to substitute a Piemonte Barbaresco or Barbera or even a California Pinot Noir, for the Barolo and you will not be disappointed.
 
Offer yourself an Italian toast, a "brindisi," while you enjoy this excursion into the fine cuisine of northwestern Italy.
 
From the front lines of good food, your correspondent,
 
Angelo
 

Rosemary, Ham, and Fontina Risotto (with Truffles) - Serves 6
Serve as a side dish or first course
 
Rosemary, Ham, and Fontina Risotto (with Truffles)

Ingredients:
 

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 cup peeled and chopped onion

  • 1/2 cup cooked ham cubes

  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, or 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary

  • 2 cups Arborio rice

  • 1 cup white wine (preferably pinot grigio or other northern Italian dry white)

  • 6 cups heated mixed stock (chicken and beef)

  • 1/4 pound fontina cheese, chopped

  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiana cheese

  • Truffle oil

  • Salt, freshly ground pepper, and chopped fresh parlsey

  •  
    Instructions:
     
    Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter, add 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot and saute the onion until soft. Add the rice and stir until coated with the butter. Add the wine, and cook until fully absorbed. Add the ham and half the rosemary. Stir to mix and fully coat all the ingredients with butter. Begin adding the warm broth one ladle at a time. Continue stirring, while slowly adding the broth as it is absorbed. After about 15 minutes, add the rest of the rosemary and the fontina cheese. Continue to stir, adding the broth one ladle at a time until the rice is tender. Add the parmigiana and three to five drops of truffle oil. Mix well. Add salt, freshly ground pepper, and chopped fresh parlsey to taste.
     

    Angelo a Penn State Grad, has had the great fortune of seeing the world with the US Army over the past 25 years. He currently lives in Rome, Italy where he spends the day contemplating making and eating food.
     
     
     
     

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