Like most people, when we think of Italian food, our minds fill with thoughts of pasta, tomatoes, oregano and Parmesan cheese.
But of course there's so much more to Italian cuisine. And when we saw the March Bon Appétit feature on the food of the Dolomite Mountain region in Northern Italy, we were really intrigued. The area, according to the magazine, is a blend of Italian, German and Austrian influences. Sounds like great food to us!
This risotto with duck and white balsamic vinegar seemed to cry out to us, so on a recent snowy weekend in D.C., we decided it was time to get our duck on.
Neither of us had ever cooked with duck before, although we love ordering it at restaurants. (Side note: This recipe is actually based on a dish that uses squab. But that's really difficult to find, at least in the U.S., and Bon Appétit suggests substituting duck.)
We've actually seen (frozen) duck breasts for sale at our local Harris Teeter supermarket, but they didn't have any in stock when we went shopping for this recipe. So we headed to Whole Foods -- no duck breasts there, but Whole Foods did have whole ducks for sale. So in a fit of craziness, we bought a whole duck and decided to butcher it ourselves (!).
Truth be told, it really wasn't much different from cutting up a chicken. Except the skin of the duck is much thicker and fattier, which gives it that amazing crisp crackle when you sear it.
We were thrilled with this meal! The duck was rich and cooked perfectly, and the risotto was absolutely amazing. Using beef broth for the risotto was a new twist for us (we always use chicken broth and white wine), but it gives the creamy risotto this amazingly rich, earthy heft. And the white balsamic vinegar adds an invigorating pungency-- almost a mildly sour note, but in a really good way -- to the dish.
And then -- just to remind you that this is Italian food, after all -- the whole thing is finished off with a big flurry of Parmesan.
This dish is a delicious, comforting meal that's still slightly exotic. And (as long as you're not butchering the duck yourself) it's actually not that difficult or time-consuming to prepare.
We're eager to cook more with duck. And -- who knows? -- maybe even squab!
The creaminess of risotto is offset by the bright, tart flavors of white balsamic vinegar. At La Stüa de Michil, this dish is prepared with squab and maple vinegar, but duck and white balsamic are easier-to-find substitutes.
* 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
* 3/4 cup chopped onion
* 1 cup arborio rice or other short-grain rice
* 1/3 cup dry white wine
* 4 1/2 cups beef broth, divided
* 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
* 1 1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
* 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
* 4 5- to 6-ounce duck breasts
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add rice; stir 2 minutes. Add wine; stir until almost all liquid evaporates, about 4 minutes. Add 1 cup broth; simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups broth, 1/2 cupful at a time, stirring often and allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next, until mixture is creamy, about 18 minutes longer. Remove from heat; stir in 1/2 cup cheese, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon butter. Season risotto with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle duck breasts with salt and pepper. Add duck, skin side down, to skillet; cook until skin is brown, about 8 minutes. Turn duck over and cook to desired doneness, about 5 minutes longer for medium-rare. Transfer duck to work surface; pour off fat (do not clean skillet). Let duck rest while preparing sauce. Add remaining 1 cup broth to same skillet and boil until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 5 minutes. Slice duck diagonally.
Spoon risotto into shallow bowls. Fan sliced duck atop risotto; drizzle pan sauce around duck and serve.