Sweet Potato Risotto with Balsamic Vinegar

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My love affair with risotto goes deeper than a simple passion for its creamy texture and irresistible savory bite, it’s embedded in my DNA. I was born and raised in the heart of Pianura Padana in the Lombardy region of Italy, where rice grows abundant and where each lombardo d.o.c (citizen of Lombardy) takes sensational pride in cooking the humble produce of our, otherwise slightly dull, flat land. Risotto is our staple dish. We may have it simply flavored with Grana Padano cheese (similar to the more notable Parmigiano, and just as delightful), or we may turn it into a more sumptuous meal with the addition of saffron strands and slow cooked ossobuco. No matter what the add-ons, and I can’t stress this vehemently enough, there will never be a worthy risotto without a great stock. This is the one time I advocate commitment in the kitchen and ditch cubes and salty powders in flavor of a wholesome home-made stock, may it be vegetable, chicken , beef or a mix of the three. Don’t skimp here, the secret to  a flavoursome risotto lies in its stock. The rest is a simple act of patience, better achieved with a glass of wine in the hand that is not busy stirring the rice…

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

For the roasted sweet potato

2-3 sweet potatoes (depending on their size), cut into chunks, skin on (well brushed)

a few springs of thyme and rosemary

1 garlic clove, skin on, bashed with the back on a knife

2 tablespoons of EVOO (Extra-virgin olive oil)

1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

salt to season

For the risotto

1 brown onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of EVOO

320 gr of Carnaroli or arborio rice

1/4 cup of dry white wine

4-5 cups of chicken, beef or vegetable stock (preferably home-made)

the roasted sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon of butter

1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese

HOW TO

1. Mix all the ingredients for the roasted sweet potatoes in a bowl, toss well and tip onto an oven try lined with baking paper. Roast in a medium/hot oven for 35-40 minutes or until soft and slightly caramelized. Set aside to cool at room temperature

2. Bring the stock to a simmer. In the meantime, fry the onion in olive oil in a large heavy-sided frying pan. Add the rice and allow to be coated with the oil and to slightly toast over medium heat.

3. Add the white wine and allow for the alcohol to evaporate, stirring gently. Pour yourself some wine, while you are at it…

4. Turn the heat down and start adding the stock a ladleful at a time, while stirring gently. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Keep adding stock until the rice is cooked, this will take around 18 minutes. Add the cooked sweet potatoes.

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5. Turn off the heat and add a generous dusting of parmigiano, a tablespoon of  butter and one ladeful of stock. Season with salt and pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, if needed. Stir vigorously to release the starch and create the classic all’onda* texture. Cover with a lid and let it rest for a few minutes to  create the perfect mantecatura, creaminess

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Vin Cotto Roasted Rainbow Carrots

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I have an undeniable weakness for heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables. My heartbeat accelerates at the glorious sight of gnarly shaped heritage tomatoes, miniature beets specked with gold and rippled in pink patterns, or baby carrots painted in vivid yellow and purple hues. I could not resist grabbing a few bunches of these gifts of the heart during my last trip at the farmers market. A splash of oil, a gentle coating of apulian vincotto and a scattering of fresh herbs is all that’s needed to complement their natural sweetness.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 bunches of baby rainbow carrots (or orange dutch carrots)

3 tablespoons of Extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of Vin Cotto * (replace with balsamic vinegar if needed)

salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

freshly picked thyme and marjoram leaves (or oregano)

1 garlic clove, bashed with back of a knife

HOW TO

1. Preheat your oven to 200 C (390 F)

2. Wash and scrub the carrots, remove the stalks and the leaves. Place carrots in a large bowl and season with oil, vin cot to, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs

3. Place the seasoned carrots onto an oven tray lined with baking paper and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until nicely golden and slightly blistered.

4. Serve warm or cold as a side or as a salad mixed with peppery arugula leaves.

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*From Wikipedia:

Vincotto (translated as “cooked wine”) is a dark, sweet dense condiment produced artisanally in the Apulia region of southeastern Italy. It is made by the slow cooking and reduction over many hours of non-fermented grape must until it has been reduced to about one fifth of its original volume and the sugars present have caramelized. It can be made from a number of varieties of local red wine grapes includingPrimitivoNegroamaro and Malvasia Nera, collected after being allowed to wither naturally on the vine for about 30 days.

Vincotto has a sweet flavor, and is not a form of vinegar, though a sweet vinegar version can be produced using a vincotto as a base. This additional product is called a Vinegar of Vincotto, Vincotto Vinegar, or Vincotto balsamic and can be used in the same way as a good mellow Balsamic vinegar.”

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