Risotto Infornato con le Melanzane

Baked Risotto with Eggplants

Some food scholars believe that, on its way to Italy from Asia, rice first stopped in Sicily. Risotto has since become more firmly established in the north, but Sicilian cooks have their own versions, such as this one.

The first stage of the dish consists of making a risotto with tomatoes and white wine. When done it is allowed to cool, then it is layered with fried eggplant, Parmesan, romano, and mozzarella and baked in the oven. It is a dense, richly savory dish, more like a country vegetable pie, a torta rustica, than a conventional risotto.

Ingredients

  • 2 to 2½ pounds eggplants, preferably the small, skinny ones
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons onion chopped fine
  • 4 tablespoons butter, plus additional butter for dotting the completed dish
  • cups canned Italian peeled plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • cups Homemade Meat Broth, or ¾ cup canned beef broth diluted with ¾ cup water
  • 1⅓ cups Italian Arborio rice
  • cup dry white wine
  • Black pepper in a grinder
  • cup freshly grated pecorino romano
  • cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)
  • ½ pound mozzarella, diced into ¼-inch cubes

Method

  1. Cut off the eggplants’ green stem, peel them, and cut them lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices.
  2. 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 rest for at least 30 minutes until most of its liquid runs off.
  3. Pour enough vegetable oil in a frying pan to come ½ inch up the side of the pan. Turn on the heat to high.
  4. Pat the eggplant slices thoroughly dry on both sides with a kitchen towel; when the oil is hot, slip them into the pan.
  5. Turn the heat down slightly to medium high and cook the eggplant until it becomes colored a light golden brown.
  6. With a slotted spoon or spatula transfer the eggplant to a platter lined with paper towels to drain. When the excess oil has been blotted by the paper, the eggplant can be stacked on a clean, dry plate.
  7. Choose a heavy-bottomed pot suitable for making risotto, preferably an enameled cast-iron one, put in the chopped onion, 2 tablespoons of the butter, and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, and turn on the heat to medium high.
  8. Sauté the onion until it becomes colored a pale gold.
  9. Add the cut-up tomatoes with their juice and turn down the heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.
  10. Add the parsley and basil. Stir 2 or 3 times, then transfer a little more than two-thirds of the contents of the pot to a bowl.
  11. Bring the broth to a simmer in a saucepan over medium-low heat.
  12. Put the rice in the pot where you cooked the tomatoes and turn up the heat to medium high. Stir the rice for a few seconds until it is well coated, then put in the wine.
  13. Cook, uncovered, stirring from time to time, until the wine has evaporated, then add a ladleful of simmering broth. Stir steadily until all the liquid of the broth has evaporated, then add another ladleful and continue stirring. Proceed in this manner, adding broth when necessary—if you run out of broth, continue with water—and stirring constantly to keep the rice from sticking to the pot, until the risotto is done. It should be tender, but firm: al dente. Altogether, it should take about 25 to 30 minutes. Add several grindings of pepper and a pinch of salt, taking into account that some saltiness will be contributed by the grated cheeses.
  14. Spread the risotto on a platter to cool.
  15. Turn on the oven to 400°.
  16. Grease the bottom of a deep oven-to-table baking dish lightly with butter. Spread a 1-inch-high layer of rice on the bottom. Cover the rice with fried eggplant slices. Pour a little of the sauce from the bowl over the eggplant, then some grated pecorino, grated Parmesan, and diced mozzarella. Cover with another layer of rice and with the other ingredients in the sequence described above. The topmost layer may be either rice or eggplant, as works out best for you, but either way it should be sprinkled with grated Parmesan and dotted with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.
  17. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the uppermost layer of the oven, until the cheese melts and forms a light, golden crust. Serve directly from the baking dish, after allowing it to settle for at least 5 minutes.

Serving Suggestions

Serve as a single-course meal for lunch or an informal dinner. It is exceptionally suited to a hot buffet.