Roasted Bell Peppers and Bacon Risotto
I have never had authentic Italian risotto.
There, I’ve gone and said it.
I have this staunch principle, where I will not – even at gunpoint – recreate something that I’ve never tasted before, because I have no idea what the standard or benchmark is, so I’ll never know if what I’ve concocted is authentic, bona fide, genuinely true to the dish’s traditional taste and texture. Like how I’ve sworn not to bake macarons till I’ve had one. And I have. But I still won’t make those little baking devils because I’ve never had one made from Pierre Herme’s shop in Paris because those are the macarons to have in one’s lifetime.
I don’t feel qualified somehow, as though I’m some deluded housewife (which I am not and will never be, so call me one and I will end you) desperate to experience some form of life outside of the four walls of the home she’s bound to, even if that means cooking up some pseudo curry from a recipe that the neighbour’s German wife swears by just for a flickering glimpse of what India is like beyond her seat beside the baby’s rocking cradle.
Oh my, don’t I feel all poetic now.
But you get what I mean – I hope – about cooking something that is unique and quintessential to a particular country or culture that you’ve never tasted before. It’s like shooting in the dark. You’ll definitely hit something, but chances are, it’ll be every other thing except for anywhere near the bullseye.
I have yet to go to Italy, and at the very most, I’ve had risotto twice at restaurants. And they weren’t even Italian restaurants!
Yet I’ve made risotto countless times. Without butter, as is traditional.
Roasted Bell Peppers and Bacon Risotto
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 tbs olive oil (or any vegetable oil)
- 1 cup carnaroli or arborio rice
- 1/2 grated parmesan or mozzarella (if you prefer stringy, spiderweb-y cheeses)
- 5 rashers of back/streaky bacon, sliced into strips
- 1 medium red bell pepper
- 1 medium yellow bell pepper
- 1 400g can of tomato puree/chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 cup water
- 10 pitted olives (optional)
- 10 fresh basil leaves, shredded (optional)
- 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (optional)
1. Roast the bell peppers by placing them on an open flame on the stove top, turning them and charring their skins black. Place the peppers into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to trap the steam inside for 5-10 minutes till cool enough to handle*. With clean hands, gently rub the charred, soggy skins off the peppers, peeling them away to reveal the tender flesh of the peppers. Only allow a quick rinse under running water to wash off the blackened bits of skin that remain stuck. Chop up the roasted peppers into a fine dice and set aside.
2. In a frying pan, fry the bacon slices until browned and crisp. Set aside.
3. Combine the can of tomato puree or chopped tomatoes with the 1/2 cup of water in a small pot and bring to a boil.
4. In a deep pan with medium heat, gently fry the diced onion with olive oil until soft but not browned for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and fry for another 2 minutes. Season with salt and peppers. At this point, turn up the heat and add the rice and fry till the grains have become a little translucent with a white spot in the middle, about 2-3 minutes. Pour in the wine and once it evaporates with a lovely aroma, add a ladleful of the tomato puree mixture. Turn down the heat to a simmer.
5. For the next 15-20 minutes or so, add a ladleful of the tomato puree mixture whenever the rice has absorbed the liquid. Repeat this process. Once the rice is almost al dente, still slightly hard but with a slight bite, add the roast peppers and olives (if using).
6. Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese. Cover the pan and leave to rest for 1-2 minutes.
7. To serve, top with the fried bacon slices and garnish with thyme and basil leaves.
*Roasting peppers this way bring out their natural sugars, so they are sweeter and smokier. Letting them steam in a bowl allows for the skins to slip off easily. The peppers will pop and crackle on the stove. If you’re still unsure about the process, there’s this excellent video that explains it. Also, it is advisable not to wash it to retain the natural sugars of the peppers. But I couldn’t otherwise remove the leftover bits of charred skin, so I gave them a quick rinse.