Risotto Carbonara: Or, How I Threw Down the Integrale Gauntlet

Okay, so this is a completely shameless move on my part.  Here I am, over a month since my last post, and I come tripping back onto the scene with this.

And what, exactly, is this? you might ask.

This, my friends, is Risotto Carbonara.  Risotto all dressed up with bacon and eggs.  Or, dressed down, as the case may be.  It’s my favorite pasta dish in creamy short-grained rice form.  Only this time, it’s not masquerading as “healthy” because I added some kale or courgettes to pump up the nutritional value.  Nope – this is down and dirty deliciousness.

Now, I’ve done risotto before.  I’ve even done healthy risotto before.  But this is different.  This is part of a Marx Foods challenge featuring their Integrale Rice.  According to the Marx Foods website, Integrale is:

an Italian brown risotto rice. Like all risotto rice varieties, slow cooking integrale rice on the stove top with multiple infusions of stock causes it to absorb the stock’s flavor and release starch into the pan, thickening the remaining stock into an incredibly delicious sauce.

However, because the outer bran is left on, the finished risotto has a nuttier brown rice flavor, distinct grains, and a little more chew to its finished texture. The bran also includes additional nutrients not found in white risotto rice.

Since I’ve done brown rice risotto before, I knew this challenge was right up my alley.  The first round of the challenge asks 15 participants to develop a savory risotto recipe featuring the Integrale rice.  I knew I wanted something that would showcase the creamy, starchy consistency of the finished product, but that would also allow the toasty, nutty flavor profile of the whole-grain rice to shine.

I settled on a carbonara preparation for a few reasons.  First – bacon.  I mean, who doesn’t love bacon?  For this I chose an Italian-style pancetta.  I usually like to use an American-style bacon when I make carbonara because I like the smokiness it imparts.  Pancetta is traditionally not smoked, so it has a milder flavor profile.  I didn’t want the rice to be overpowered by the bacon, but rather complemented by it.  Second – Parmigiano Reggiano.  Nutty, salty, umami goodness.  Seemed like a perfect accompaniment to the nutty nature of this rice.  Third – egg yolks.  In a traditional pasta carbonara, raw eggs are stirred into hot pasta along with Parmigiano Reggiano to create a rich, creamy sauce.  For the risotto, I opted to top the finished product with a barely-poached egg so that the golden yolk could mix in with the creamy rice right at the very end.

The end result was nothing short of delightful.  Salty, creamy, nutty, slightly acidic (thanks to the addition of a dry white wine during the cooking of the risotto) – a perfectly balanced mix of flavors and textures.  The rice maintained its integrity throughout the cooking process, and was left slightly al dente, while still releasing its starches to create a creamy sauce that enrobed each grain.

Before I give you the recipe, let’s just discuss the details of this challenge.  Starting tomorrow (May 30), you can vote for your favorite Integrale recipe over on the Marx Foods website.   I think there are 15 of us, and I would sure appreciate your vote.  10 bloggers will proceed to the next round, which should be fun because it’s all about dessert risotto (and I’ve already got some good ideas up my sleeve for that one – it would really be a shame if I couldn’t share them).  So, you know, if you feel like it, head on over there and vote tomorrow.

Risotto Carbonara

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Yields: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Organic Italian Integrale Rice
  • 1/4 lb. pancetta, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup dry white wine (I used a Portuguese Vinho Verde because that’s what I had in my fridge)
  • 6-8 cups chicken stock, heated
  • 2 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano, grated, plus more for garnish
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 eggs, poached
  1. I like to begin by placing my chicken stock in a stock pot over medium-low heat on a burner next to the one I’ll be using to cook my ristto
  2. Heat a chef’s pan or large stock pot over medium heat
  3. Add the diced pancetta and cook slowly, allowing the fat to render out before the meat gets too brown.
  4. Once the pancetta is brown and crispy, remove it from the pan, leaving the rendered fat behind in the pan.  Reserve the cooked pancetta
  5. Add the diced onion to the pan, sauteeing until translucent
  6. Add the rice to the pan with the onion and fat from the pancetta.  Sautee the rice in the fat, stirring it around to coat all of the grains.  Cook until grains have become to look opaque in spots.
  7. Add the cup of wine to the pan, stirring the rice until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  8. Begin adding the hot stock a cup at the time, stirring after each addition until most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Keep adding stock a cup a the time until the rice is al dente.  I used between 6 and 8 cups this time.
  9. Turn off the heat and add the grated cheese and all but about a tablespoon of the cooked pancetta (reserve a little for garnish).  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.  I like a lot of pepper.
  10. Spoon the risotto into flat pasta bowls – it should spread to fill the bottom of the bowl, but not have much excess liquid.
  11. Top with a very lightly poached egg and garnish with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and crispy pancetta.
  12. Enjoy!

Disclaimer:  I received a box of Organic Italian Integrale Rice free from Marx Foods as part of my participation in this contest.  The preceding opinions are my own and I was not otherwise compensated for this post.

I Won This Ravioli. It Rocks.

Okay, so remember that review I did a couple of weeks ago of the butternut squash seed oil?  Well, if not, here’s a link that will bring it all rushing back with amazing clarity.  That particular post was part of a contest that was being sponsored by Marx Foods, and the winner was awarded their choice of six pounds of Pumpkin or Butternut Squash ravioli.

Guess who won?

Yep – it was I.  Little old me.

And on Thursday, I was greeted by a friendly delivery man dropping off a large box full of frozen squares of pumpkin-sage deliciousness.  Not that I ate them frozen.  That would be weird.

Despite the fact that pumpkin-sage ravioli is really more of an autumnal pasta, I decided to serve it for dinner last night with a mushroom/goat cheese cream sauce.  And let me just tell you – it was pretty amazing.

I mean, you can’t really go wrong with piquant goat cheese and earthy, deeply browned cremini mushrooms.  That combo would be tasty over just about anything.  But, when you pair it with this ravioli – this beautiful, colorful pasta, which is slightly sweet and a little nutty, bursting with robust savory richness – it is elevated to a whole new level.  This is a marriage of flavors, y’all.

To make the sauce, I browned a pound of sliced cremini mushrooms in about a tablespoon of butter over high, high heat.  You want those babies to get brown, brown, brown.  I waited to add salt until they had achieved the level of brown-ness I wanted, since salt draws out moisture, which is the enemy of browning.  I also added a minced shallot toward the end and just let it soften.

Once the mushrooms got good and brown, and the shallots had softened, I reduced the heat to low and added a cup of cream and 4 oz. of goat cheese to the mix.  I tasted for seasoning and added a little more salt and some cracked black pepper.  Once the goat cheese melted and became incorporated,  I added the cooked pasta and it was done.  It was about 15 minutes, start to finish (which is just about how much time it took for the water to boil and the pasta to cook).

If you have an occasion to taste this ravioli, I encourage you to take advantage of it.  I realize that the price on the Marx Foods website seems a little high, but when you consider that it includes overnight shipping and handling, it doesn’t seem so bad.  You get about 16 portions, which breaks down to 6 pieces per person (which is more than enough) for an entree portion, but you could easily extend it by serving it as an appetizer and only serving 2 or 3 pieces per person.  And my experience with the folks at Marx Foods has been nothing but positive.  They’ve been very helpful and quick to respond to my emails.

I do recognized that it’s unseasonably warm in most areas of the country, and pumpkin sage ravioli may be the last thing you want to think about right now.  However, this was too delicious not to share.  And as I said, this sauce would be tasty over just about anything – on scrambled eggs for breakfast, over papardelle for dinner, on crostini as an appetizer (you might want to reduce the cream for that last one).   It’s good stuff.

Pumpkin Sage Ravioli with Mushroom Goat Cheese Cream Sauce
prep time: 2 minutes
cook time: 15 minutes
yields: 4 servings

Ingredients

  1. Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil.  Add the frozen ravioli and stir immediately to avoid sticking.  Cook 4-6 minutes, or until they float.  Remove from the water using a strainer or large slotted spoon.  Add to the sauce.
  2. While the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, heat a large, heavy bottomed saute pan over high heat.
  3. Add butter and sliced mushrooms.  Cook over high heat until mushrooms are browned.
  4. Add shallot and cook until softened.
  5. Reduce heat to low and add cream and goat cheese.  Stir to melt goat cheese.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Add cooked pasta and stir to coat.
  8. Enjoy!

Note:  I received this ravioli free from Marx Foods as an award from a contest in which I participated.  I was not asked to write a review in return for the product.  The opinions in this post are mine.

Butternut Squash Seed Oil and Quinoa Cakes

I love seed oils.  They’re all so unique – some have a deep,rich, nutty flavor, and others are clean and mild.  I’ve long been a regular user of grapeseed oil, a flavor neutral oil with a high smoke point perfect for high-heat cooking, but also good in light salad dressings.  I also enjoy toasted sesame seed oil, where a little goes a long way in the flavor department.

When I heard that Marx Foods was running a seed oil review contest, I knew I wanted to get in on it.  They have recently begun carrying Butternut Squash Seed Oil and Delicata Squash Seed Oil, and were offering a complimentary bottle of one of the flavors in return for candid reviews.  I submitted my request, and was delightfully surprised when I was chosen to participate.  Within a week, a petite bottle of Butternut Squash Seed  Oil was delivered to my doorstep.

I first wanted to taste it on it’s own, so I uncorked the bottle and sniffed it.  It had a full, round scent – reminiscent of roasted nuts – with a slight vegetal undertone.  I poured a little out onto a plate, dipped the end of my finger in the oil and placed it on my tongue – the flavor was rich and nutty, with a hint of sweetness.  You could definitely taste the butternut squash flavor in the background, but mostly it reminded me of a toasted nut oil (like walnut or hazelnut), or even a mild sesame oil.

According to the Marx Foods website, these oils have a relatively high smoke point, so they’re appropriate for cooking, but are also good as dipping oils or in salad dressings.  I decided to put it to the test on both fronts, using it to fry up some savory quinoa cakes, and in a light salad dressing for a spinach and mixed green salad for dinner one night.

Quinoa Cakes, Fried in Butternut Squash Seed Oil and Clarified Butter

(based on this recipe from The Healthy Foodie, which I found via Pinterest)
prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 15 minutes
yields: 8-10 patties

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups quinoa, cooked in chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 small white onion, finely minced
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 1 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 whole eggs and 4 egg whites, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons ghee
  • 2 tablespoons butternut squash seed oil
  1. Combine the quinoa, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, salt and pepper.
  2. Add the eggs and stir to combine.
  3. Allow to sit for a few minutes so the bread crumbs can soak up the liquid.
  4. In a large stainless steel skillet, heat the ghee and butternut squash seed oil over medium heat.
  5. Carefully form the quinoa mixture into patties the size of the palm of your hand.
  6. Place them in the hot oil, cooking them for 4-5 minutes on the first side.
  7. Flip them over once they’ve browned and cook for another 4-5 minutes on the second side.
  8. Keep warm in the oven while you cook the rest.
  9. Serve over a mixed green salad, topped with a poached egg.

Butternut Squash Seed Oil Salad Dressing
prep time: 2 minutes
yields: 1/4 cup of dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon mustard (spicy or dijon)
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey
  • 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butternut squash seed oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small mason jar.
  2. Screw the lid on tightly and shake
  3. Toss with mixed salad greens
  4. Enjoy!

As a cooking oil,  it stood up well to the high-heat test, yielding a super light and crispy exterior on the quinoa cakes.  They had a nutty flavor, but it’s hard to say whether that came from the oil, or from the quinoa itself.  It’s also possible that the clarified butter washed out some of the butternut squash flavor.  Performance-wise, though, it held up – hardly smoking at all, even when I let the pan get a little too hot.

Where this oil really shone was in the salad dressing – you could taste the toasted, nutty flavor and the squash flavor was really nice.  The addition of the honey brought out the sweetness, and the mild champagne vinegar didn’t overpower it at all.  I definitely think this oil is better suited to raw applications than it is to cooked.  Although I could see it in place of a sage brown-butter sauce (or even as an addition to) with ravioli or pappardelle.  It’s nice and mellow, and the flavor can become overpowered easily.  If it’s allowed to stand on it’s own, though, it won’t disappoint.

Note:  While I did receive a complimentary bottle of Butternut Squash Seed Oil from Marx Foods, the opinions in this post are my own.