Growing up in an Italian household taught me that absolutely nothing is better than a home-cooked meal from your mother. Whether you’re returning from a long trip or just coming home from school, mamma’s cooking always welcomes you in just the right way. There is something about how she combines the simplest of elements to create such a warm and homey feel.

This is the essence of peasant food; non- pretentious dishes created from inexpensive ingredients presented in an elegant way. It has caught fire with top chefs and restaurateurs for this very reason. This rustic, old-school dish with a bacon twist embodies that spirit. You can serve a family of four for roughly twenty dollars, but, I assure you, there is no skimping on flavour. I promise you that.

Ingredients

For Chicken:

8-12 Pieces Maple Leaf Prime Chicken Legs and Thighs

8-12 Strips Maple Leaf Bacon

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

2 Tbsp Paprika

4 Tbsp Fresh Rosemary

2 Cloves Garlic

1 Cup Dry White Wine

Salt and pepper to taste

For Risotto

5 Strips Maple Leaf Bacon

½ Red onion

2 Cloves Garlic

2 Tbsp Butter

2 Cups Portobello or Cremini Mushrooms

1Tbsp Olive Oil

½ Cup Dry White Wine

2 ½ Cups Arborio Rice

1 L Chicken Stock

60g Goat Cheese

So, the approach we’re going to take is to first get the chicken totally prepared and in the oven (since that’s going to take about 45 minutes) and while that’s doing its thing, we’re going to make the risotto.

 Here we go!

1.  Preheat the oven to 400°. Simple enough?

2. Throw a couple glugs of olive oil into the bottom of your roasting pan to make sure that the chicken doesn’t stick to the bottom. We’re now going to take our legs and thighs and take the skins off.

Two side notes here. First: I’m using legs and thighs because they are cheaper and have WAY more flavour than breasts (peasant food, remember?) Second: I’m deskinning the chickens because we’re going to make a faux-skin later – we’ll get to that in a couple steps.

3. Sprinkle your paprika, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper over your chicken. One tip I learned about getting the most out of your rosemary is to whack it like it owes you money with the back of a knife. This allows all of the fragrant oils to be released from inside the herb and take it to a new level.  Don’t hold back; show it who’s boss. Toss everything together so everything is evenly coated. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty (but wash them frequently  – salmonella poisoning sucks!).

4. Wrap each piece of chicken with a piece of bacon. This is the faux-skin I was talking about before. Cool, huh? Throw this right into the oven. It will take about 45 minutes. You’ll know the chicken is done when the bacon is crispy, the meat is firm and if you pierce a leg or thigh, the inside will be grey (grey good, pink bad) and the juices will run clear.

Onto the risotto.

5. Heat your chicken stock and leave it on the back burner. It should be quite hot – not boiling, but close. This is extremely important when making risotto. We will be adding stock little by little and letting the rice soak it up. If we add cold stock, it will slow the cooking of the rice and not allow for its starch to be released. The starch release is what gives risotto its characteristic creamy texture. This is also why it is important to use Arborio rice – high starch content!

6. We need to do all the dicing and chopping first because once we start the risotto, it will require our full attention. Don’t be fooled; risotto takes a lot of time and effort to make, but it’s really just stirring. Constant stirring. Get a fine dice on your bacon, red onion and garlic and have them ready. Clean and slice your mushrooms. I, personally, buy the mini Portobellos that are already prewashed and sliced. It saves quite a bit of headache. Any mushroom will do.

7. Render your bacon. “Render” is the fancy term. Fry your bacon until it’s crispy and has released all of its fat. Remove the bacon from your pan with a slotted spoon (yes, yes, save the bacon in a bowl!) to leave the fat. We are going to fry our mushrooms in that, but before we add our mushrooms…

8. Add your 2 tbsp of butter to the pan, THEN throw in your mushrooms. Mushrooms and butter go so well together. Season with a touch of salt and some black pepper. Cover the pan to let the them sweat. Once they’ve released all of their water and have shrunk in size, remove those with a slotted spoon (yes, save them, too). If we leave the mushrooms in while we stir the rice, the rice goes quite brown and doesn’t look as appetizing.

9.  Throw your onion and garlic into the pan along with the 2 tbsp of olive oil. Fry these together until they’re nice and caramelized.

This is the moment of truth. Are you ready to stir? I hope you’ve been working out.

 

10.  Dump in your rice and start stirring immediately. Keep stirring. Don’t stop. At this point we are not adding any liquid, we are just toasting the rice. This will give a nutty base flavour to the rice once we’re finished. Make sure you continue to stir so that everything gets coated with the olive oil and butter in the bottom of the pan. If you see that not everything is being coated, go ahead and add some more olive oil. Once the rice is perfectly toasted, it will have gone translucent and grown slightly in size. You can see the difference between the uncooked and the toasted rice below.

11. Add your white wine and a ladle-full (about a half cup) of hot stock. Continue to stir. Once all of the liquid has been incorporated into the rice, add another ladle-full of stock. Continue to stir. Continue this process until the rice is ‘al dente’. This literally translates to ‘to the teeth’. This means that the rice should be soft, but still have a bit of bite to it. It should not be mushy. The whole process of stock-addition should take roughly twenty minutes. Yes, you’ll be stirring the whole time. Trust me, it’s worth it. If you run out of stock, you can add hot water until the rice is cooked.

12. Once your rice is ‘al dente’, remove it from the heat and stir in your goat cheese, and the mushrooms and bacon we saved from before. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Usually one would add butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, but the goat cheese will give us a slightly sharper finish and is creamy enough that we don’t need any butter. By this point, our chicken should be ready, too!

Plate, serve, enjoy and tell your mother you love her.