Swiss Chard Risotto with Chicken MeatballsThe best risotto is a creamy celebration of wine and butter and cheesiness. The “Swiss Chard Risotto with Chicken Meatballs” (recipe below), from the March/April 2013 issue of La Cucina Italiana, is that kind of risotto. Mind you: this endeavor requires pacing and pots. You will dedicate each burner of your stove -- to the broth, the meatballs, the chard, the risotto. You will inhale and exhale with the comforts of ladling broth into wine-soaked risotto. My family devoured this meal.

Swiss Chard Risotto with Chicken Meatballs
La Cucina Italiana, March/April 2013
6 servings

1 lb. skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 celery rib, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 leafy thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
fine sea salt

2 slices white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
2 tsp. finely chopped parsley
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. peeled and finely chopped carrot
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 leafy sage sprig
1 leafy thyme sprig
1/2 cup dry white wine

5 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, gently smashed and peeled
1 bunch Swiss chard (about 3/4 lb.), leaves finely chopped
fine sea salt
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Step 1. FOR BROTH: Remove skin and bones from chicken thighs; set aside meat. In a large, wide saucepan, combine skin and bones, onion, carrot, celery, thyme, bay leaf, wine a pinch of salt and 6 cups of water. Bring just to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a gentle simmer, cook 45 minutes. Meanwhile prepare meatballs.

Step 2. FOR MEATBALLS: Cut reserved chicken into small cubes, then finely chop. In a large bowl, soak bread in milk until softened about 1 minute. Squeeze out excess milk and place back into the bowl with chicken, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix until just combined well (do not over mix), then form 1-tsp. portions into 1 1/4-inch balls.

Step 3. In a large heavy saucepan, arrange meatballs in a single layer. Add carrot, butter, sage and thyme. Cook, covered, over medium heat, 10 minutes. Add wine; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until meatballs are cooked through, about 5 minutes more; remove and discard herbs. Remove pan from heat; cover to keep warm.

Step 4. FOR RISOTTO: In large saucepan with lid, heat 2 Tbsp. oil and garlic, over medium heat. Add chard and pinch salt, cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove and discard garlic, set aside chard.

Step 5. Strain broth into a saucepan through a fine-mesh sieve, cover to keep warm. In a medium saucepan, heat remaining 3 Tbsp. oil over medium heat; add shallot. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add rice; cook, stirring, 1 minute, then add wine. Cook, stirring, until liquid is mostly absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth; cook, stirring frequently, until broth is mostly absorbed. Continue adding broth in 1/2 cupfuls, stirring frequently, and allowing each addition to mostly absorb before adding the next, until rice is tender yet still slightly firm to the bite. (You may have broth leftover).

Step 6. Stir in chard, cheese, butter, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve risotto immediately with meatballs and their broth.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

If you are intimidated by the notion of preparing your own chicken broth, don’t be here. I overcame my aversion. Simply explained, you simmer your chicken skin and bones in water, with veggies and herbs, for 45 minutes, while you prep some other stuff, like chopping chicken, parsley, carrots, Swiss chard, shallot, and grating the Parmigiano-Reggiano. That single pound of chicken, mixed with the soaked bread, makes many little meatballs. Stewing the meatballs in butter for 10 minutes, then adding the wine thereafter (I used a 2011 Pinot Grigio Venezie), produced fantastically browned and flavorful specimens. The little bits of carrot were precious.

The chard was easy to chop and cook: olive oil + garlic + greens.

And the sighs begin when you ladle more wine into the rice pot, followed by doses of the wonderful broth that you made. Arborio starchiness is perfect. And then you go over the top: add that grated cheese and another hunk of butter to the mix. Wallow in the incredible.

Chicken Thighs (1 lb.) = $2.74
Onion (1) = .42¢
Swiss Chard (1 bunch) = $1.87
Shallot (1) = .29¢
Arborio Rice (2 cups) = $2.80

PREP TIME: devote at least two hours to this production
chicken broth, white wine, and Parmigiano-Reggiano turn chicken meatballs into powerhouses, nested in creamy arborio rice

Next time, I will move on to the May/June 2013 issue of La Cucina Italiana, to make the “Fava Bean and Potato Soup.” I will also cook the “Asparagus Wraps with Prosciutto & Marinated Mozzarella,” from the April 2013 issue of Cuisine at Home (recipe below). Come back to my site next week, to see my great meal.

Asparagus Wraps with Prosciutto & Marinated Mozzarella
Cuisine at Home, April 2013
Makes 4 servings (4 wraps)

For the Mozzarella, Whisk:
1/2 cup purchased Italian salad dressing
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced (into at least 8 slices)

For the Asparagus, Toss:
1 lb. fresh asparagus, trimmed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and black pepper

For the Wraps, Brush:
4 flour tortillas (8-inch)
12 thin slices prosciutto (6 oz.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

For the mozzarella, whisk together Italian dressing and Dijon, then pour over mozzarella slices in a shallow dish. Turn mozzarella to coat with marinade. Set mozzarella aside to marinate while preparing asparagus.

For the asparagus, toss spears with oil and season with salt and pepper; transfer to a baking sheet. Roast asparagus until crisp-tender, 8-10 minutes.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high.

For the wraps, brush inside of each tortilla with marinade, then top with 2-3 slices marinated mozzarella, 3 slices prosciutto, and a quarter of the asparagus. Tightly roll up wraps; brush outsides with marinade. Brown wraps in hot skillet until golden and mozzarella slightly melts. Remove wraps and slice in half on the bias.