You may have noticed an abundance of delicious fall flavored treats floating around the food blogs these days. Creations rich with pumpkin, squash, apples and rich harvest spices are some of my favorites, regardless of the season. Fall has always meant trips to the pumpkin patch, bringing out those great snuggly sweaters to keep the chill away on cool fall days, apple cider, the sound of crunching leaves underfoot, and the smell. That smell of fall is distinctive, earthy and delicious enough to make you close your eyes and contently smile while drawing in the biggest whiff your lungs can take.
Here in California, I'm learning fall really isn't that different. Kids still go wild at the pumpkin patch, leaping and bounding from the hay bales while in pursuit of the perfect pumpkin. A few leaves litter the sidewalks here and there, and apple cider doughnuts were a welcome find at a downtown cafe a few days ago. Our neighborhood is festooned with fake spiderwebs, witches, goblins and ghouls. Despite the lack of cool crisp fall weather I grew up with, I've learned that the seasons are what you make of them, regardless of your location. I can't wait to carve pumpkins, hoping that I can recover from a carving contest whooping that I received from Mr. SoCal last year. The thought of our 2 and 3 year old nephews all decked out for Halloween in their bat costumes makes me grin from ear to ear, and the thought of them hopped up on sugary goodies makes me grin even more. The smell of fall is different here, so I decided to fill our kitchen with a rich, comforting scent of a treat that may not be as snuggly as those great fuzzy sweaters, but warms your heart and belly just the same.
Celery Apple Risotto with Crispy Pancetta
(adapted from Bon Appetit, 2007)
3 - 14 oz cans low sodium chicken broth (or stock)
1 cup celery, diced (about 4 stalks)
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 apples, diced
2 cups arborio rice
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/8 cup shredded Parmesan reggiano cheese
3 oz pancetta, diced
Salt and Pepper to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
In a small saucepan, pour chicken broth and simmer on medium heat.
In a large sauce pot, melt 1 Tbsp butter and oil together. Add diced onion, celery and two of the diced apples, and lemon juice. Saute on medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until onions and celery are soft. Add minced garlic and continue to stir.
Add arborio rice to large sauce pot and stir until well mixed. Slowly add chicken broth 1/2 to 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly.
Continue to mix with each addition of chicken broth, until all liquid is incorporated (25-30 minutes total). When all liquid is absorbed and rice is just past al dente, remove from heat and all Parmesan reggiano cheese and remaining butter and stir. Add remaining finely diced apple and stir thoroughly. The risotto will be done when it no longer can absorb additional liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cook diced pancetta over medium heat, and place cooked pancetta on paper towel to absorb excess grease. Plate risotto, and top with chopped chives and pancetta crumbles.
I really wanted a subtle apple sweetness to be the predominant flavor of this dish. When the risotto finished cooking, the apple was masked behind the earthy flavor of the celery and a hint of garlic. I used a softer apple (Macoun)and both the flavor and texture of the apple was lost in the risotto. Using a finely diced up apple mixed in after cooking gave it the perfect balance I was looking for. Next time around I would opt for a firmer apple, like a Braeburn or Granny Smith. The pancetta could just as easily be bacon and still get that great sweet salty balance. Happy fall to you and yours, and best wishes for a safe and happy Halloween.