If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the nine years that I’ve been in charge of organizing and hosting Christmas for my little family, it’s that Christmas is a lot of work. All the behind-the-scenes shopping, planning, decorating, wrapping, cleaning and cooking isn’t exactly the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings, but someone (and we all know who) has to do it. It’s certainly made me appreciate how hard my own mother must have worked to make the holidays magical for me and my brother and sister when we were growing up. That’s why I love the Irish idea of Women’s Christmas (Nollaig na mBan) on January 6th, when women are meant to get the day off while the men do the housework, kind of like an extra Mother’s Day. What I can’t understand is why the idea isn’t spreading like wildfire. Who wouldn’t like a day off from housework, a girls’ night out and an extra present?
If Women’s Christmas was going to be celebrated in my own house (hint, hint Hubby), then this is the dinner I’d request to be made for me as one last calorific holiday indulgence (though I already made it on St. Stephen’s Day as a way to use up some of our leftover Christmas ham). Risotto is one of my go-to winter dishes, and this version is my absolute favorite. The leeks become meltingly soft and mild, the bacon adds its signature salty, smoky depth, and the Camembert in place of the usual Parmesan elevates the whole dish into something special. In fact, it’s the dinner I asked my husband to make me the day I came home from the hospital with our son. But don’t feel that you have to wait for a special occasion to make this. It would also be the perfect rib-sticking antidote to any long, dark, cold winter night.
Bacon, Leek and Camembert Risotto
If you can’t find or don’t care for Camembert, or if you want to make a less rich, more everyday kind of risotto, use 1/2 cup (50 g) of Parmesan instead. You can also use leftover ham instead of the bacon here, or for a vegetarian version, use mushrooms instead of the bacon.
4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter
2 leeks, white parts only, sliced
1 1/2 cups (300 g) risotto rice (Arborio rice)
1 cup (240 ml) dry white wine or extra-dry Martini
2 pints (1 liter) good-quality vegetable or chicken stock
6 to 8 slices of bacon or pancetta, depending on how thickly cut the bacon is
8 oz (225 g) Camembert cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the butter in a wide, deep saucepan and add the leeks. Cook to soften, about 10 minutes. Mix in the rice, stirring to give it a good coating of the butter. Allow it to cook for a minute or two, until the grains of rice start to turn translucent. Add the white wine or Martini and let it bubble away for a few minutes. Meanwhile, heat the stock in another saucepan and keep it at simmering point.
Once all the wine or Martini has been absorbed into the rice, pour a ladleful of the stock into the rice and keep stirring until the stock is absorbed. Then add another ladleful and stir again. Continue doing this until the rice is al dente. You may not need all the stock; equally, you may need to add a bit more hot water. Don’t rush this process — allow the rice to fully absorb each ladleful of stock before adding the next one.
While the risotto is cooking, heat a separate frying pan and cook the bacon or pancetta until crisp. Drain on paper towels, then chop into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
When you’ve added almost all the stock, test the rice — the risotto is ready when the rice is tender but still has a little bite. When the risotto is done, mix in the Camembert cheese and the bacon. Divide between 4 serving bowls or plates, add seasoning to taste and serve immediately.