While cleaning out the fridge the other day, I came across an unopened block of smoked Gouda from Wisconsin, and it has become a little bit of an obsession. I've had it on grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon and apple slices, cubes of it stirred into roasted tomato soup, and with apples and grapes as an afternoon snack. It's creamy and rich, with just a hint of delicate smoke flavor. I have to admit I'm a little sad that my regular trips to Wisconsin are at an end, since it means my access to high-quality, inexpensive cheese is now severely limited.
When I was trying to come up with other ways to use my prized Gouda, risotto came to mind, since it's delicious in it's own right, but also makes a great canvas for whatever other flavors your heart desires. Earthy mushrooms and salty bacon always go well with Gouda, and spinach provided some color and freshness. There is a lot of cooking something, then setting it aside, but the recipe makes up for that by needing just a single pan.
Smoked Gouda and Spinach Risotto with Bacon and Mushrooms
adapted from Cooking Light and Mary Ellen's Cooking Creations
What's in it:
6 sliced of bacon, diced
2 c sliced cremini mushrooms
5 cups chopped spinach (about 5 ounces)
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cups Arborio rice or other short-grain rice
1/2 c dry white wine
3 1/2 c less-sodium chicken broth
1 c shredded smoked Gouda cheese
How to make it:
In a deep saucepan, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon begins to crisp; set bacon aside. Remove all but about a tablespoon of the bacon fat, reserving it for later. Add the mushrooms to the pan, stirring to coat with the bacon fat, and cook until golden-brown, about 8-10 minutes, then season with salt and pepper. Set the mushrooms aside as well (I just use one big plate for all of the "set-asides"). If the pan is dry, add a couple of teaspoons of the reserved bacon fat back to the pan, then add spinach a handful at a time until it's all wilted, seasoning lightly with salt to draw out water. Set that aside too.
Melt the butter in the same saucepan, add any remaining bacon fat, and then add shallots and garlic, cooking until just softened and fragrant, about a minute or two. Stir in the rice, and cook until the grains become translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Pour in the white wine, scraping up any brown bits from the pan surface. Let the wine cook off, and when the rice looks mostly dry, pour in about a half cup of the broth. Allow it to simmer, stirring often. Continue to add the broth in half-cup portions, still stirring often.
When the rice is done, stir in the reserved spinach, half the bacon, and 3/4 cup of the cheese. Serve the risotto topped with mushrooms, garnished with the remaining bacon and cheese.