A simple risotto spiked with handfuls of Parmigiano Reggiano and black pepper would have been the safe route to take when putting together a dish inspired by Chef Massimo Bottura, the featured chef from the first episode of Chef’s Table.
I tried to stay away from that, to riff on the theme of risotto, but create something new, something that nods to the classic dish.
Naturally, the solution was to watch what Mr. Bottura did when he sought to create a dish to showcase the best of Emilia-Romagna. I quickly realized that one item had to retain its star status, the cheese. As I said, this won’t be like making traditional risotto, but it graciously shows its respect. Everything is done separately and brought together at the end. At home, our rice making process is basic. High quality rice, butter and water go into a covered pot on medium-high heat for about 15-20 minutes. For the science of cooking rice, search elsewhere, this isn’t “How to Boil Water.”
Riso Cacio e Pepe
1 cup milk
4 Tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper to taste
While the rice cooks, in a separate saucepan on medium-low heat, pour in the milk (organic grass-fed or raw if you can find it) and add the rinds from the Parmigiano-Reggiano so they can steep for about 20 minutes. You can steep the cheese on a lower heat and longer to achieve an even deeper flavor.
In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350°.
On a nonstick or silicone cookie sheet, make four small piles with the shredded cheese, and flatten them out so they are circular and level.
Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove and let cool. Once cooled, they will be crispy discs of cheese, cracker-like in texture.
Once the rice is done, discard the rinds, and pour the milk into the pot along with the grated cheese and half of the butter. Turn the heat to low and whip the rice vigorously with a spoon or spatula until the cheese and butter are completely incorporated. You’ll end up with a viscous, rice pudding-like product.
Then, fry the eggs with the rest of the butter until they’re over easy, the yolks are going to be very runny.
To serve, divvy up the rice into four deep bowls, making a crater in the middle. Place your egg in the crater and break the yolk. Season with salt & pepper, emphasis on the pepper.
Place a Parmesan disc on top to cover each bowl to make a crispy, cheesy lid
Resist the temptation to stir it all together. I chip away at the Parmesan disk as if it were the top layer of crème brûlée, scooping up a little yolk, a little crispy egg, and a lot of the creamy, Parmesan tinged rice.
Elements of risotto, pasta, with Parmigiano as the star, all combine into one decadent bowl. I sincerely think this dish pays a great deal of respect to episode 1, and its focus on the magic of the Mr. Bottura’s home region. Enjoy!