On the menu: Lemon Eggplant Risotto
I want to try and tell you a story. I read an article about conveying honesty in food photography a few weeks ago, and it inspired me to pick up my camera and capture each step in dinner that night. The lighting in our kitchen is far from ideal, and it was starting to get quite dark, so I put on my apron, snapped the speedlight onto the camera, and got to work.
I was making a variant of quite possibly my favorite thing to cook: risotto. This version, filled with earthy eggplant and bright, fresh lemon, comes from Plenty, the vegetarian tome by Yotam Ottolenghi that still leaves me awestruck each time I flip through its pages. His recipes combine flavors and textures into out of this world combinations.
The risotto begins by preparing the eggplant. I cut one very large eggplant in half–equatorially, as you’ll soon see–and placed one half under the broiler to roast. I chopped the other half into small pieces and fried them in a copious amount of oil until they were crisp and golden brown.
Then I began to build the flavors of the risotto. Chopped onion and garlic were sauteed until tender and fragrant. The rice was added to the aromatics to allow the grains to toast and add even more flavor to the dish.
It was time to add the liquid. A bit of vermouth adds another layer of flavor and collects some of the starch from the rice to create the thick, creamy sauce risotto is lauded for. Then it was ladlefuls of warm seafood stock, added one by one, with lots of stirring between each addition. The rice was softening; the sauce was thickening. It was almost ready.
By this time, the other half of the eggplant was done roasting in the oven. I split it open and scooped out the soft, steaming flesh. To finish the risotto, I stirred in this roasted eggplant flesh along with butter, salt, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
To finish the dish, I sprinkled shreds of basil and the fried eggplant cubes on top. A few grinds of black pepper and a couple pinches of salt, and it was complete. Time to eat.
What a splendid meal this was. The contrast between the eggplant and the lemon and basil was refreshing–it seemed appropriate for dinner during the transition between the wrath of winter and the hope of spring.
Lemon Eggplant Risotto
adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
1 large eggplant (or 2 medium eggplants; you want about 3/4 cup each of eggplant flesh and cubes)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
coarse sea salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
7 oz short grain rice (we used carnaroli; arborio could be used)
1/2 cup dry vermouth
3 1/4 cup seafood stock
zest of 1 lemon, grated
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup fresh basil, shredded
freshly ground black pepper
If you have an electric stove: Preheat your broiler to medium high. Cut the eggplant in half crosswise; put one half aside for later. Poke several holes in the eggplant with a fork and place it under the broiler for 45 minutes to one hour, turning 2-3 times. The eggplant will flatten and blacken. (If you have a gas stove, you can do this directly on a burner over medium heat, turning the eggplant often for 10-15 minutes. It’s done when the skin is black and the flesh is soft.)
Meanwhile, chop the remaining half of the eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes. Heat 1/3 cup of olive oil in a skillet and fry the eggplant until they are crisp and golden brown. Remove the eggplant from the oil, sprinkle with salt, and let cool.
Heat the stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Try not to let the stock boil.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, then add the onion and cook until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the rice. Stir the rice to coat it in oil, then let it fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the vermouth. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes until the vermouth is almost completely absorbed.
Turn the heat down to medium and begin adding the hot stock to the rice. Add 1/4 or so at a time, stirring between additions, adding more when the liquid is almost completely absorbed. When all the stock has been added to the rice, remove the pan from the heat. Add half of the lemon zest, lemon juice, most of the Parmesan, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir well, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve the risotto in bowls and top with remaining Parmesan and lemon zest, the basil, and the diced eggplant cubes.