Ottolenghi's Lemon and Eggplant Risotto

Risotto is such a delightful dish. Comforting, creamy, simple, stable.  

And I am a huge fan.

As in, I will make me a risotto any chance I get, with any sort of ingredient you can imagine. It doesn't matter--any season. 

Spring--lemon and peas; 

Summer--tomato and parmesan; 


Winter--butternut squash and pancetta. 

If it's in your fridge, you can put it in this Northern Italian rice dish.

However, you will want a very specific kind of rice--a high starch, medium- or short-grain rice--in order separate this delicacy from any other rice dish. The high starch means that as you cook it, it releases its starch, making that requisite creamy smoothness to risotto.

The most popular risotto rice in the United States is, hands down, Arborio rice. This short-grained rice isn't as starchy as some of its popular Italian counterparts, but it is the most easily procured. However, a great article from Fine Cooking that details other risotto rices that are becoming more readily available in North America, including carnaroli, vialone nano, baldo, and Calriso.

All risotto follows a pretty standard process--in fact it never really changes. 
  • Cook up a mirepoix or simply some onions or garlic in some butter or oil. Then cook the dry rice in the fat and aromatics. This early step coats the rice in fat. 
  • Then you toss in a bit of wine, which is quickly absorbed by the rice. The wine adds another layer to the dish.
  • And then the adding of the broth begins (and here's where risotto takes patience that pays off).  Stock is added one ladleful by one ladleful, as you stir constantly and ensure that the rice completely absorbs the broth before adding more. This constant stirring and the slow adding of broth loosens the starch from the surface of the rice (remember, you want that high starch rice for a reason) and creates that smooth, creamy texture that separates risotto from a bowl of rice. That said, you do want the rice to still have a little "bite" or "chew," like you would a good al dente pasta, so you have to be careful not to add so much broth that you make mush.
  • After all of the liquid has been absorbed, you take the risotto off the heat and add the mantecatura, the final fat (usually cheese or butter) that you stir in at the end.
Even Yotam Ottolenghi, our culinary hero of the 21st century, makes his risotto just like that.

And so, when we were away for the week, I put together Ottolenghi's simple, summery risotto--in part because some beautiful eggplants arrived in our CSA box from Full Belly Farm.

The lemon in this recipe is strong, but it's just perfect for the hot days of summer. Remarkably, this dish felt relatively light, even though it is a cooked rice dish. Seriously, though, try this dinner the next time you need a simple vegetarian entree or want a lemon-y side dish for grilled chicken from your bbq. 

Lemon and Eggplant Risotto

Adapted from  Ottolenghi's Plenty

4 Servings 

2 medium eggplants
½ cup olive oil plus 1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup arborio rice (or other risotto rice, see above)½ cup white wine 
3¼ cups hot vegetable stock* 
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp lemon juice
1½ tablespoons butter
½ cup grated parmesan cheese 
½ cup basil leaves, shredded
Salt and black pepper

* recipe for a simple, very good veggie stock from Parsnip Dumplings in Broth follows

1. Begin by burning one of the eggplants. This can be done one of several ways: 

  • On a gas stove, the eggplant can be put directly on a moderate flame and roasted for 12-15 minutes (turning frequently with metal tongs) until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. 
  • To roast in the oven, pierce the eggplant with a sharp knife in a few places. Put it on a foil-lined tray and place in a 500 degree oven for 1 hour. 
  • Or on a grill, place the eggplant over a high heat flame, and using metal tongs, keep turning it for about 20-25 minutes. 
No matter your method, the eggplant needs to deflate completely and its skin should burn and break. 

2.  Once the eggplant is ready, remove it from the heat and make a long cut through it (allow any steam to escape before handling). Scoop out the soft flesh while avoiding the skin. Discard the skin. Chop the flesh roughly and set aside.

3.  Cut the other eggplant into a ½-inch dice, leaving the skin on. Heat ⅓ cup of the olive oil in a pan and fry the eggplant dice in batches until golden and crisp. Transfer to a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave to cool.

4. Put the onion and remaining oil in a heavy pan and fry slowly until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a further 3 minutes. Turn up the heat and add the rice, stirring to coat it in the oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine, and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until nearly evaporated. Turn the heat down to medium.

5. Add the hot stock to the rice, a ladleful or cupful at a time, waiting until each addition has been fully absorbed before adding the next and stirring all the time. When all the stock has been added remove the pan from the heat. 

6. Add half of the lemon zest, the lemon juice, grilled eggplant flesh, butter, most of the parmesan and ¾ teaspoon salt. Stir well, then cover and set aside for 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt, if you like, plus some black pepper. Stir in the diced eggplant, the remaining parmesan, the basil and the rest of the lemon zest.

7. To serve, spoon the risotto into shallow bowls and serve with additional basil, parmesan, and lemon zest.

*Here's the recipe for a good, basic broth from Ottolenghi's recipe in Plenty for Parsnip Dumplings in Broth
The broth can be made ahead of time and reheated when ready to add to the risotto. I actually began the broth as I was waiting for the oven to preheat for the eggplant, and then the broth and eggplant were ready at about the same time.

Vegetable Broth
Adapted from  Ottolenghi's Plenty

4-6 Servings 

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 carrots, peeled and cut in slices
5 celery stalks, cut in chunks
1 large onion, quartered
1 small celeriac, peeled and quartered
7 cloves of garlic
5 thyme sprigs
2 small bunches of parsley, plus some for garnish
10 black peppercorns, whole
3 bay leaves
8 prunes
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large stock pot. Add all the vegetables and garlic, sauté until the vegetables color slightly. Add the herbs, spices, prunes, and enough water to cover the vegetables. Simmer for 90 minutes, adding liquid as needed to maintain the water level. Strain the broth through a sieve into a clean bowl, salt and pepper to taste. 


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