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A friend of mine hosted a Cookbook Party this past weekend and the cookbook of choice was Nigella Lawson’s “Nigella Kitchen”. She’s such a charming personality - so effortlessly beautiful, so at ease and likeable - but I haven’t actually cooked many of her recipes so I didn’t know what to expect for this dinner. I chose the Risotto Bolognese because I never spend the time on a good bolognese or a good risotto; a recipe that killed both those birds with one stone seemed pretty ideal to me.
This is not a quick and easy recipe. It’s not difficult, but it’s definitely the kind of cooking saved for when you want to be a cook, not a mom throwing dinner on the table in the hectic early hours of evening. The bolognese sauce requires some work up front and then a low-and-slow cook in the oven; the rice gets slowly cooked in the sauce (with the addition of more broth) for a total of about 2 hours. That last bit requires constant stirring, but the resulting dish is well worth the effort. The bolognese is so rich and flavorful and the rice has the perfect texture of firm but yielding. This is comfort food at its sophisticated best.
The other meals at the party included pumpkin parmesan scones, panzanella, creamy tarragon chicken, and chicken with chorizo and potatoes, just to name a few. (I won’t even get started on the desserts … no, really, I can’t … but just let me say CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CHEESCAKE. Ok, I’m done. But oh my gosh it was so good.) I thought all the dishes were really good (although I have to say I was puzzled by the omission of salt in many of her recipes) and definitely within the realm of practical home cooking.
Nigella’s engaging personality comes through even her simplest instructions. My adaptation of her recipe below will have neither her charm nor her abundance of other good recipes, the kind you can turn to when you need reliably good and flavorful results. I recommend purchasing a copy of her cookbook Nigella Kitchen for your cookbook collection!
feeds 6 as a main and 8-10 as a side
1 onion, chopped roughly
1 onion, peeled and chopped roughly
1 celery stalk, chopped roughly
1 clove garlic
a handful of parsley
1/2 lb bacon, chopped roughly
4 anchovy fillets or 1 tsp anchovy paste (can skip)
3 Tbsp butter (+ 1 Tbsp extra for later)
8 oz ground beef
1/3 cup dry marsala
14-oz can diced tomatoes, processed into a puree
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp whole milk
2 quarts veal broth, divided into 2 cups and 6 cups (I used roasted beef broth)
2 large bay leaves or 4 smaller ones
2 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
Combine the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, bacon, and anchovy (paste) in a food processor and process on low until into a chunky paste.
Preheat the oven to 300. In a large dutch oven or pot with a heavy lid, heat the 3 Tbsp butter with a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Cook the pasty onion bacon mixture until soft, stirring, about 5-8 minutes. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring and breaking up, until the meat is cooked through. Stir in the marsala. Add the pureed diced tomatoes, the milk, 2 cups broth, and the bay leaves. Stir while the mixture comes to a boil. Once boiling, cover with lid and put in the oven to cook for 1 hour.
A little before the hour is up, warm the remaining broth over low heat. Take the meat mixture out of the oven and remove the bay leaves. Keep over low heat. Add the rice in along with a ladleful of broth, stirring constantly until the broth has been absorbed and the mixture thickened. Add another ladleful of broth and repeat, always stirring. Keep repeating this process until the rice is cooked through. The rice should be yielding with the slightest bit of resistance - not mushy but not crunchy. You might not use all the broth but keep in mind that the rice will continue to absorb as it sets. You’re going for a balance between soupy and clumpy.
Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan, then the extra tablespoon of butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
*Nigella recommends forming any cold leftovers into patties and frying them up in a well oiled griddle until hot and crispy. I did this for dinner the day after and served them topped with a fried egg on crusty bread. It was fantastic!