Dear Marcella Hazan…

Posted on August 25, 2011

I love your recipe for Risotto Infornato con le Melanzane.

Love it.  Really love it.

I plan on carrying a copy of Marcella’s Italian Kitchen with me always, in case I should find myself stranded on a desert island.

If stranded, book at my side, I would make this one dish over and over, week after week, and never tire of it.

Of course, I also hope to be stranded with a suitcase full of Arborio rice on an island that supports eggplant growth.  Tall order, I know, but fingers crossed, Marcella.  Fingers crossed.

Working on campfire skills as we speak.

Your kitchen acolyte,

Jane

No kidding, Baked Risotto with Eggplant is that good:  the best of the late summer’s eggplant, creamy fresh mozzarella and sharp sheep’s milk cheeses, deep green and fragrant garden basil, crispy edges of baked risotto rice.  Not creamy risotto, but risotto baked until crustily golden brown at the edges.  Hazan describes the casserole as “a dense, richly savory dish, more like a country vegetable pie, a torta rustica, than a risotto.”

Exactly.

I love this dish, and I thought you readers would love it too.  You have to stand at the stove through a few steps, and light the oven as well, but by the end of August, when eggplants are in your CSA basket and on farm stand shelves, the air around us is less humid and evenings are a little cooler.  You won’t mind the heat or the work in a later summer kitchen.  Especially after you take a bite.

Marcella Hazan is a great partner to have in the kitchen if you want to start delving into Italian home cooking.  You’ll love her instruction and her encouraging voice almost as much as you will love her recipes and gift for bringing fresh, seasonal food to the table.  Although I offer a few substitutions for some the ingredients and methods, this is Marcella’s recipe, not mine.

  • 2 – 2 1/2 pounds eggplants
  • salt
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 4 Tbsp. finely chopped onions
  • 1 32-ounce can of plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
  • 4 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, or a mix of half water and half stock
  • 1 1/2 cups Italian Arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (mix the pecorino and parmigiano together)
  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, diced into 1/4- or 1/2-inch cubes

Cut off the eggplants stems, peel them (fully or partially) and cut them into 3/8-inch-thick slices.

Stand the slices along the sides of a deep colander, sprinkle with salt, and place the colander over a bowl or basin.  Allow the eggplant to drain for at least 30 minutes until most of the bitter liquid runs off.

Pour 1/4-inch vegetable oil in a frying pan set over medium-high heat.  Pat the eggplant slices dry with paper towel and when the oil is hot, slip the slices into the pan.  (Eggplant slices can be brushed with oil and grilled outdoors or broiled, if you prefer.  The texture of the final dish with be different – the eggplant chewier, less silkily unctuous – but still delicious.)  Cook the eggplant in batches until slices are light golden brown.

Transfer browned slices to a platter lined with paper towels to drain.  When excess oil has been blotted, the eggplant can be stacked on a clean plate.

Into a heavy bottomed pan, put the chopped onion, the butter, and 2 Tbsp. of the oil. Turn the heat to medium high.  Saute the onion until it becomes colored a pale gold.  Add the chopped tomatoes along with their juice (not the juice in the can) and turn the heat to low.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.  Add the parsley and basil.  Stir 2 or 3 times, then transfer more than two-thirds to a bowl.  Leave one-third in the risotto pot.

Bring the broth or broth-water to a simmer in a saucepan or in the microwave.

Put the rice in the risotto pot with the tomatoes and turn up the heat to medium high.  Stir the rice for a few seconds to coat with tomatoes, then put in the wine.  Cook, uncovered, stirring from time to time, until the wine has evaporated.

Then add a ladleful of broth.  Stir steadily until all of the liquid of the broth has evaporated.  Proceed in this manner, adding broth when necessary (if you run out of broth, add water) and stirring constantly to keep the rice from sticking to the pot, until the risotto is done.  Risotto should be tender but firm, or al dente.  Altogether, this should take about 30 minutes.  Add several grindings of freshly ground pepper.  Add salt only if you have used water in place of some of the broth, and only a little.  Remember, the cheese added to the recipe when assembling will add saltiness to the dish.

Let the risotto cool in the pan or on a large platter and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spray a 13-by-9 baking dish with non stick spray.  Spread half of the risotto on the bottom of the baking dish.  Cover the rice with a layer of eggplant slices, about one-third of the eggplant.  Pour half of the reserved tomato sauce on top of the eggplant.  Top this with half of the mozzarella cubes and one-third of the grated cheeses.

Top the cheese with the remaining rice, one more third of the eggplant, the remaining sauce, the rest of the mozzarella, then another one-third of the grated cheeses.  Top this with the remaining eggplant and sprinkle the top with the remaining grated cheese blend.

Bake for 15-20 minutes in the upper third of the oven, until the cheese melts and forms a light, golden crust.

Serve directly from the baking dish after allowing the casserole to settle for about 5 minutes.

©2011  Jane A. Ward