So here we are, five days after Christmas, and you’re probably wondering what to do with the leftover holiday ham in your fridge. After all, there are only so many ham soups you can make before they get tiring (and I’m a big fan of ham soups). As I was thinking about everyone’s ham problem yesterday, I put together this ham and kale risotto for lunch. I thought you folks would enjoy it as well.
Risotto is the most popular way to prepare rice in Italy, and has been around since the 1500s. The rice varieties used in risotto (typically Carnaroli, Arborio, or Vialone Nano) are high in starch and impart a creamy texture to the dish. There’s a certain technique to making risotto: you create a soffrito using fat and onion, toast the rice and coat it in the fat, pour in and evaporate wine, ladle in hot broth until cooked through, then finish with butter and/or cheese.
The risotto-cooking process requires almost constant stirring in order to loosen up the starch and to keep the rice from sticking to the pan, so expect to spend a lot of time in front of your stove when making this dish (I usually grab a book or watch some Netflix on my phone). As an added bonus, your arm will get a bit of a workout along the way.
Ham and Kale Risotto (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Option, Primal)
4 cups chicken or ham stock, more if needed (see step 3)
4 tbsp butter, divided
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb leftover ham, diced
1.5 cups Carnaroli, Arborio, or Vialone Nano risotto rice
1/4 cup dry white wine (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay)
4 cups chopped kale (about 3 stalks), stems removed
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional, see note below)
4 squirts vinegar-based hot sauce (Frank’s, Tabasco, etc)
salt and pepper to taste
1. Add the broth to a stockpot, then bring to a simmer; reduce heat to low to keep warm while you prepare the risotto.
2. In a large skillet, warm 2 tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and sauté until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the ham and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spoon.
3. Stir in the rice and sauté until opaque and slightly browned, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Some of the ingredients will start to stick to the bottom of the pan, which is fine. Stir in the wine and simmer until almost evaporated, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the broth and simmer until almost evaporated, stirring almost constantly, about 5 minutes. Continue this process until nearly all of the broth has evaporated and the rice is soft, 15-20 more minutes. If the broth has evaporated and the rice is still too firm for your liking, add a bit more broth (if you have some) or a bit of water. Remember to keep stirring constantly to evenly distribute the heat and so that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom.
4. Once the liquid has mostly evaporated and the rice is soft, stir in the remaining 2 tbsp of butter and the kale, stirring until the butter has melted and the kale has softened and turned bright green, about 4 minutes. Add the cheese and stir until melted; stir in the hot sauce, taste, and add salt and pepper to taste. Let rest for a few minutes before serving.
** If you are avoiding dairy, use olive oil (or ghee if you’re up for it) instead of butter, and omit the cheese at the end. The natural creaminess of the risotto rice will more than make up for any lack of dairy.
** If you’re not up for hot sauce, a squeeze of lemon juice will work just as well as the spicy stuff in terms of acidity and balanced flavors.
** Risotto purists insist that the dish should be somewhat runny (all’onda, “flowing in waves”), and that the rice should be slightly al dente, but it’s up to you. It’ll taste great no matter what.
This dish serves four as a side, or two as a main course.
I love this risotto recipe for two reasons (besides the fact that it’s delicious). First, I like the idea of cooking rice when you’re in total control, as opposed to throwing it in a pot and hoping that it comes out alright. Second, it’s a great way to incorporate many flavors (and nutrients) into one dish. The fat from the butter, the protein from the ham, the fiber from the kale, and the acid from the hot sauce (or lemon juice) help to temper blood glucose spikes from the rice (studies have shown that incorporating fats, acids, fiber, and protein can reduce blood glucose spikes significantly – reference). Additionally, the butter helps to absorb the nutrients from fat-soluble vitamins (A, K, D) found in the kale.