I have a new love. It is a bold and delicious love. Smoked over Texas pecan wood, my love is an artisan ricotta that hardened and acquired a hearty, deep taste and the firm crumble texture of an old aged cheese. Ricotta Affumicata is made by Lira Rossa, the cheese company of an Italian cheesemaker from Friuli in northern Italy who landed in rural Texas, just 2 hours west of Houston.

Shaved thin, this smoked ricotta livens up any pasta. And, as I tried and tested for Edible Houston earlier this year: it mingles very well with strawberries in risotto.

If you are so unlucky as to not find this kind of smoked ricotta, try another smoked cheese. The sweet yet tart fruitiness of the strawberries, creaminess of the risotto and hearty smokiness of the cheese make this a killer one-pot dish!

Smoked Ricotta & Strawberry Risotto

Serves 3-4

  • 1 tablespoon + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1½ cup Carnaroli or Arborio rice
  • ½ cup finely diced shallots (or yellow onion)
  • 1 cup finely diced fennel (tops included)
  • 2 quarts (or as needed) well-flavored (chicken) stock, keep hot
  • 1 cup finely diced strawberries
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup grated smoked ricotta (I get it from Lira Rossa Artisanal Cheese)
  • Shaved smoked ricotta, for garnish
  • Microgreens, for garnish

In a wide pan, melt the first tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the rice and sweat 2–3 minutes. Add onions and fennel and sweat another 2–3 minutes. Now start building the risotto: Add a full ladle of hot stock and stir until the liquid is fully incorporated. Continue for the next 20 minutes: Add stock, stir and let rice incorporate all liquid before adding the next ladle of stock. After about 10 minutes, add half of the finely diced strawberries. Towards the end of those 20 minutes, taste the grains: They should be chewy but not in the least bit chalky. Continue adding stock and stirring if not yet done. Typically a risotto is done after 25 minutes but sometimes it takes a little less, or a little longer.

To finish: Stir in the remaining strawberries, half of the grated smoked ricotta and a little more stock. Stir for 1–2 minutes more, then take off heat and add the second tablespoon of butter and the rest of the grated ricotta. Garnish with microgreens and shaved ricotta and serve immediately.

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