Roasted Aubergine Risotto With Caramelised Artichoke Hearts & Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella

A further trip to the multi-cultural delight that is Tooting in south-west London yielded yet another variety of aubergines, these even more beautiful that the last (see what I made with the other variety here). What a delight they were to photograph!

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

I absolutely love aubergine (eggplant for my US readers!) and am always looking for new ways to employ it. Having previously perfected an extremely delicious dip – my Roasted Aubergine Delight – which uses aubergine purée, garlic, lemon and yoghurt to create a truly remarkable flavour experience, I wondered if these flavours could also be employed in a risotto. Aubergine risotto is not something I have come across before, but what could go very wrong with the addition of rice and perhaps a little cheese?

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

As I often do when creating a new dish, I had a look at my favourite flavour pairing resource for some ideas (see my post on this website and resource here). I learned that aubergine pairs particularly well with Gruyère, buffalo mozzarella and artichoke, so I decided to incorporate these delectable ingredients into the risotto. I also thought that the delicate green of the artichokes and the snowy white of the mozzarella would look nice against the dusky brown of the roasted aubergine. And so they did!

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

As with my yoghurt-aubergine dip, the aubergine purée adds a wonderfully delicate, earthy flavour to the risotto, but it will take a very discerning palate to pick out exactly what it is. This makes it great for sneaking nutritious vegetables into the diet of reluctant eaters! I have had many an aubergine-hater look at me in amazement when I tell them what they are actually eating! You can use the recipes I have posted to employ this versatile purée, or add it to any number of different dishes. I often roast a load of aubergines at once and keep them in little bags in the freezer for future use (I have full instructions on how to prepare this great freezer staple here).

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

Although I have prepared mature artichokes to eat as a starter, pulling off the leaves and slathering them in an unholy amount of aïoli, I have never used baby ones before, so I followed the instructions I found on this website. I was unsure as to what bits of the plant I would actually be able to eat, but the instructions were accurate and after a short par-boil the hearts, stems and inner leaves became tender and delicious.

Do make sure that you put the artichokes in acidulated water as soon as possible when preparing them, as recommended in the website’s instructions – they go brown extremely quickly!

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

I used the water used for boiling the artichokes as a basis for the risotto stock, it adding not only a welcome tinge of green to the rice, but also extra nutrients and artichoke flavour. The amount of water I have listed in the recipe below should be enough to boil the artichokes and then soften the rice, but if you lose too much through evaporation, you may need to add a little extra. This technique will also save you time, energy and water as you will only have to heat one pan of water instead of two.

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

I have been told by one or two Italians that you should only ever stir risotto clockwise. This sounds like complete and utter nonsense to me, but does anyone have a more scientific take on this? I have always been curious as to whether there can be any truth to it.

I have also recently been told by my sister Danielle that you should never use garlic and onion together in the same dish. Having used garlic and onion together in practically every dish I have ever cooked, this advice left me baffled. A Google search on this question only revealed forums full of people saying that they always use them together, but if you know better please do leave a comment. I used garlic but no onion in this dish and it was beautifully flavoured, but how to work out what effect that decision made when there were so many other amazing ingredients contributing their individual characteristics?

Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

You can omit the buffalo mozzarella from this dish and it will still be perfectly lovely. If you do decide to use it, the cool, fresh cheese provides a texture and temperature contrast with the hot rice and should definitely be torn over the top and not stirred through the risotto. When heated, even buffalo mozzarella becomes rubbery and difficult to distinguish from its cow-milk counterpart, however raw it has a wonderful creaminess and a delicate flavour that is well worth the extra expense.

Instead of using butter to finish the risotto as is typical, I used thick Turkish yoghurt instead. This was partly because I wanted to mirror some of the flavours in my aubergine-yoghurt dip, but also in an attempt to make a healthier, lighter version of risotto. This variation was a resounding success, adding a bright, tangy creaminess – I think it will be the way I finish all my risotto in the future.

As Gruyère has a particular affinity with aubergines, if you have it to hand I suggest that you use it here instead of Parmesan, but if the latter is all you have on hand (as I did), by all means use that instead.

Incidentally, I just happened to be drinking a lightly sweet Grenache rosé wine when I was making the risotto and I thought they went together quite well (although the red wine in the picture is a better colour match!). Otherwise, a safe bet is to match the food with the white wine you used to make it – another reason to always use a drinkable wine for cooking!

Does anyone else have a quirky recipe for the purple vegetable delight that is aubergine? I can feel a dedicated aubergine Pinterest board coming on…

Please click here to see the formatted, printable recipe on Ramsons & Bramble




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