Risotto with Lemon, Licorice and Caper Powder
This risotto has two popular Italian ingredients, licorice and capers, which work in glorious, delicious harmony.
Licorice—not the sweet red gummy candy, but the real thing, made from licorice root— has been an ingredient in medicinal remedies since ancient Roman times, thought to cure sore throats and stomach ailments. In Italy it’s a flavoring for both savory and sweet foods.
Capers, edible little flower buds from the caper bush, are popular in thousands of Italian dishes, especially in southern Italy. They’re added to vegetable, fish and meat dishes and to pasta sauces like pasta puttanesca. Capers are picked, then pickled either just in salt or in salt and vinegar. Most Italians prefer to use only capers cured in salt, as the vinegar alters the delicate flavor of capers.
This risotto dish, with the unusual combination of licorice and capers, was created by Chef Francesco De Rosa of ALMA the international school for Italian cuisine located near Parma in Emilia-Romagna. The school trains chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers and restaurant managers with an educational philosophy inspired by Chef Gualtiero Marchesi, the father of modern Italian cuisine.
The recipe includes directions for a sweet and savory lemon puree, which is also wonderful on grilled veggies and fish.
Serves 4 - 6
For the lemon puree: Peel the lemons with a vegetable peeler, separating the pulp from the zest. Cut the lemon pulp in quarters and remove the seeds. Combine the zest and pulp with water in a small pan and bring to a boil. Strain and repeat twice more, changing the water each time. Meantime make a sugar syrup by boiling ½ cup water with the sugar and salt for 10 minutes. Add the zest and pulp to the syrup and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, until all the water has evaporated. Allow to cool and puree. Press through a mesh and reserve.
For the caper powder: Rinse the capers in running water to desalt them. Drain and place them in a dehydrator on medium for about 6 hours, until dry. Grind them in a clean coffee grinder to obtain a fine powder. Reserve.
For the licorice sauce: Grind the licorice in a coffee grinder or in a mortar and pestle. Combine the resulting powder with a few tablespoons of hot water and stir to create a paste. Reserve.
For the risotto: In a medium saucepan, bring 3 to 4 cups of water to a boil to add to the rice as it cooks. Toast the rice in a medium pot for a few minutes in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, then slowly add the white wine, stirring constantly, and cook until the wine evaporates. Continue cooking the rice for about 14 minutes, slowly adding in the hot water until the rice is tender, but still firm. Remove the rice from the heat and stir in the remaining olive oil and cheese until well-combined and creamy. Stir in the lemon puree and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Brush the bottom of each place with the licorice sauce, top with the rice and finish with a dusting of caper powder.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Francesco De Rosa of the ALMA cooking school