At dinner years ago with Matt’s old college friend and his wife and two-year-old daughter, I remember watching in amazement as their little girl gobbled up an appetizer of Gorgonzola-stuffed mushrooms. Coming from a family where my sister and twin brothers were classic picky eaters, I asked what their secret was in getting their daughter to eat so well. “We don’t make a big deal out of new foods,” they said. When I had kids of my own, I followed their advice and it’s matter of some pride that my kids now eat such a wide range of foods and flavors. When we were in Florida over Christmas, I picked up a tray of sushi from the grocery store and my mother couldn’t believe it when my daughter proceeded to eat most of it while my twin teenage brothers were having yet another dinner of chicken fingers and fries. But even though my kids will happily eat a dish like sole meunière or gnocchi with blue cheese and walnut sauce, I do still like to make explicitly kid-friendly things that I know are sure to appeal to them, like Parmesan chicken fingers or this risotto, which is basically a more everyday version of my favorite bacon, leek and Camembert risotto. But who am I kidding in saying this was for the children? The grown-ups liked it just as much.
Ham and Cheese Risotto
adapted from Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson
The original recipe is for cheddar and leeks only, but I couldn’t resist adding in some bacon to make it a ham and cheese risotto. Leave it out for the original vegetarian version.
1 tablespoon (15 g) butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 slices of bacon, chopped into lardons (or you could use chopped leftover ham)
2 small leeks, cut in half lengthwise and finely sliced
2 cups (300 g) risotto rice
1/2 cup (125 ml) dry white wine or extra-dry vermouth
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 pints (1 liter) hot vegetable stock
1 1/4 cup (125 g) grated mature cheddar
chopped fresh chives, to garnish
Melt the butter and oil in a large pan over a medium heat and cook the bacon and the leeks for about 5 minutes, until the bacon has browned and the leeks have softened. Add the risotto rice, stirring for 1 minute to make sure all the grains of rice are coated with the oil. Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the wine and mustard, stirring until the wine is absorbed. Start ladling in the hot stock, letting each ladleful become absorbed before adding the next one. Keeping stirring and adding a ladleful of stock at a time until the stock is all used up and the rice is al dente, about 20 minutes. Add the cheese, stirring it into the rice until it melts. Take the pan off the heat, still stirring as you do so, and spoon the risotto into warmed dishes, sprinkling with some of the chopped chives.