Shredded pear an unexpected delight in creamy risotto

The classic Italian rice dish risotto is sweetened with shredded pear. (Tribune News Service)

Pears often get overlooked because, like avocados, they’re often hard to buy.

They’re either rock hard, taking days to ripen on the counter, or they’re so ripe you can barely get them home from the store without the skin splitting open.

Yet, they’re worth the hassle in that they’re sturdy enough for baking, are lovely sliced into salads, and add sweetness to chutneys and preserves.

In this recipe from celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich, shredded pear is the secret ingredient in a rich and creamy risotto dish. It’s perfect for an easy, summery family meal, and it makes a great side dish for larger gatherings.

People often are afraid of risotto because if you overcook the rice, it gets gummy. It also requires a lot of stirring. But so long as you stick to the recipe and don’t spend more than 20 minutes at the stove, you’ll be fine. Remember also to take the pot off the stove to cool for a few seconds after the stock is absorbed before adding the cheese and butter.

Be careful not to grate the pears too finely, or, like me, you’ll spend many minutes fishing tiny bits of black seeds out of the rice as it cooks.

If you can’t find Grana Padano, substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano. To make a balsamic vinegar reduction, pour 1 cup balsamic vinegar into a skillet and boil until reduced to 1/3 cup. Cool completely before using.

RISOTTO WITH PEAR AND GRANA PADANO

Serving: 6

8 cups light chicken or vegetable broth

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup sliced leeks, white and pale green parts only, washed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups carnaroli or arborio rice

3/4 cup dry white wine

2 medium Bartlett pears, peeled and grated

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano cheese

1 cup thinly sliced celery and celery leaves

Balsamic vinegar reduction (optional)

Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and add the olive oil. When oil is hot, add the onion and leeks. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook and stir until the onion and leeks are wilted but not browned, 7-8 minutes.

Add the rice, and stir to coat in the oil. Pour in the wine, and cook, stirring, until it’s absorbed, about 1-2 minutes. Ladle in enough hot stock just to cover rice, and adjust heat so risotto is simmering.

Cook, stirring constantly, until all liquid is absorbed. Continue to add hot stock in small batches (just enough to moisten the rice completely), and cook until each successive batch has been absorbed, stirring constantly, until the rice mixture is creamy but still al dente, about 18 minutes total.

Add the grated pears about halfway through cooking time. It’s OK if you have a little stock left over.

Remove skillet from heat, and vigorously stir in the butter in teaspoon-size pieces until absorbed. Sprinkle with the Grana Padano, and stir to combine into a creamy mixture. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Serve the risotto in shallow bowls, with a sprinkle of celery and celery leaves and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction, if desired.

(Recipe from “Felidia” by Lidia Mattichhio Bastianich)

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