Yesterday was that kind of autumn day on Spring Cove, Maine -- cool gray skies, blustery wind, and big waves. It was a day that cried out for comfort food. Since I had been satiated by the Guinness World Record Macaroni and Cheese, my thoughts wandered to my next favorite choice - risotto.
I am a huge fan of Arborio rice and love risottos for their versatility. They can be a satisfying main course or an elegant side dish. Recently I heard that a good friend of Cabot Creamery and a really incredible chef, Mark Molinaro, would be doing a cooking demonstration at the Southern New England Women's Expo and he would be making this perfect risotto dish.
Here, reader, is my gift to you. Chef Molinaro's Vermont Apple-Cheddar risotto. Enjoy!
Vermont Cheddar-Apple Risotto
Chef Mark Molinaro
6-8 cups homemade or store-bought vegetable broth
2 local apples, peeled, cored and cut into medium dice
2 tablespoons Cabot Unsalted Butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and gently crushed
3 sprigs thyme, gently bruised with back of knife
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons minced shallot or yellow onion
2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup white wine
4 ounces Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 cup)
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
Optional garnishes: sliced green onions, Cabot Sour Cream, fried sage leaves
1. In saucepan, bring vegetable broth to simmer. In saute pan, cook apples in 1 tablespoon butter until tender; set aside.
2. Place heavy 2-quart stainless steel or other nonreactive pot over medium-low heat; add oil and remaining 1 tablespoon butter.
3. When butter is just melted add garlic, thyme and bayleaf. Reduce heat to low and stir in shallot or onion.
Cook shallots until translucent but not browned.
4. Add rice and stir gently with wooden spoon until thoroughly mixed in and warmed. Stir in salt.
5. Add wine and let barely simmer until almost fully absorbed by rice. Add enough of warm vegetable broth to just cover rice. When nearly absorbed, add another half cup of broth. Continue adding broth until absorbed, slightly reducing amount with each addition. Taste along the way and add more salt if needed.
6. When rice is creamy and grains are firm (al dente) but not at all crunchy, stop adding broth and remove bay leaf, garlic and thyme sprigs. Stir in cheddar and reserved apples. Serve in warm bowls, topped with garnishes if desired.
I have learned over the years that perfect risotto cannot be rushed. Grab a glass of wine and a good friend who will keep you company while you stir over a very low heat. Don't be impatient...love your pearly Arborio grains and they will yield their delicious flavor up to you.
I garnished my risotto with fried, salted sage leaves fresh from my garden, and topped with a little chopped parsley, also garden-fresh. This really was a perfect meal to serve as a harbinger of the great cold-weather meals of fall and winter. I've never been a big fan of cooked apples, but the combination of the very mild apple taste, the bite of the Extra Sharp Cabot Cheddar, and the divine creaminess of the risotto was irresistible.
Thanks, Chef, for this yummy new take on an old favorite!