Bacon, Pea, and Gruyere Risotto

In the north-eastern part of Italy, close to Venice, risotto tends to be slightly wetter than in other regions. This recipe is a play on the classic Venetian Risi e Bisi, translated as “Rice and Peas”, that uses the regional rice varietal “Vialone Nano”, but regular Arborio or Carnaroli also works. I use some smoky bacon and the nutty Swiss Gruyere cheese to create a stick-to-your ribs type of risotto that will leave you full, warm, and ready for the end of winter! The bacon we get in from Metzger Meats in Hensall, Ontario, is perfect - it's meaty, with a robust smoke flavour that compliments the Gruyere.

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main course

Ingredients

1 L                         chicken stock
1 tbsp                   shallot, minced
3 slices                 Metzger bacon, finely chopped
2 tbsp                   butter, divided in half
1                            bay leaf
1 cup                     vialone nano, arborio, or carnaroli rice
2 tbsp                   white wine (pinot grigio or other mildly flavoured wine)
1 cup                     frozen green peas
2 cups                   gruyere cheese, grated
 

Method

1. In a large pot, bring the stock to a simmer over a low heat.

2. In a sauce pan over a medium heat, sweat the shallots and bacon in 1 tbsp of butter. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the bacon fat has been rendered and the shallots are translucent. Add the rice and the bay leaf and stir well, cooking for another minute. Add the white wine, stir, and allow to evaporate.

3. Add the hot stock to the rice 1 cup at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid before adding another cup. Continue stirring while adding the stock. Test the rice for doneness after 3 cups have been added, and add a bit more stock if necessary. This will take about 20 to 30 minutes, and the rice should have a bit of a chew but be fully cooked through the grain. At the fifteen-minute mark, add the frozen peas. The finished risotto should be wet, like a soupy porridge consistency.

4. Once the rice is cooked, take the pan off the heat and vigorously stir in the gruyere and the second tablespoon of butter. Pour into a dish and serve immediately.
 

Sanagan’s and The Stop Community Food Centre

At Christmastime, through our loyalty program, both our customers and Sanagan’s have donated money to local charities. In the last two years, those donations have gone to The Stop Community Food Centre. But then Peter said, ”Why just the holidays? Why not allow donations throughout the year?” So now there’s a year-round rewards points donation option available to Sanagan’s customers because giving feels as good in August as it does in December. And it all goes to The Stop.

The rewards system at Sanagan’s is very simple. For every $500 you spend, you save $25. It’s also an easy way to donate to The Stop. You accumulate $500 in spending, you hit the donation button and the Stop receives $25.

The Stop Community Food Centre, based in the Davenport neighbourhood, began as a food bank 38 years ago but that was just the beginning. They currently operate in three locations with a mission to “increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality.” This has resulted in an ambitious network of projects including drop-in meal programs, a healthy food bank, a community bake oven, a farmers market and an urban greenhouse and agricultural centre. 

For more information on their innovative programs and facilities please go to their website.

Longtime volunteer Kim prepares the peppers for lunch

Once The Stop and its battalion of volunteers gets someone in the door for breakfast or lunch, from there it can offer advocacy, financial planning, food education programs and a sense of community — people you can look to for help, friendship or even simple acknowledgement as you fight against the isolation endemic to poverty — all guided by the ethic of dignity. 

Chef Monica Bettson (on the right) confers with volunteers Ann and Cathy

At The Stop, you are what you eat and what you’re eating is, as much as possible, locally sourced, nutritional, whole foods that not only respect the recipients but the producers, land and animals that provide it. The Stop is supplied by people like Sanagan’s. 

Once chef Monica Bettson and her team receive the raw materials they get serious with the cooking. When I stopped in at The Stop the menu for their Drop-In Dining Program, inspired by Black History Month, was taped to a fridge and listed the following meals: 

“Thursday - Southern: BBQ chicken with macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, lemon-glazed sweet potatoes.” 

“Friday - Jamaican: salt cod fritters, mashed sweet potato, curried okra, coconut rice, creamed curried corn.” 

If that’s history, I’m ready to do some homework.

Sanagan’s chicken thighs about to get a Southern treatment

I asked Monica, “How do you answer people who say you could feed more people if you served them cheaper food?” Monica, who strikes me as a very pragmatic feeder of the people, replies, “We have an important role to play in ethical sourcing. We try to use as many local, seasonal and sustainably produced ingredients as possible. It’s a balance that sometimes goes one way or the other, especially in winter when local produce becomes scarce or when we need to cook culturally appropriate foods that don’t grow in Ontario. But our close relationships with small businesses and farmers help us to buy in bulk, buy in season, and cut costs while staying true to our values.” 

 The bottom line is, at their Davenport Drop-In facility alone, they manage to supply over 300 sit-down meals per day while receiving only 10% of their annual budget from government funding. And that doesn’t even include the separate Food Bank program. Combine that with the fact that their #1 source of funding is derived from their special events programming and you can see why Sanagan’s think The Stop Community Food Centre is a rewarding option for your rewards points.