February 15, 2007


Lucky_girl asked if I would post the eggplant tomato risotto recipe from Valentine's day.

But, I won't. Why? Well...You know what they say about giving a man a fish...Instead, let me teach you to make risotti.

Biba says, Risotto, a rice dish, is one of the most splendid of all Italian Preparations...The possibilities for the flavor base of risotto are endless. Savory meats, cheeses, vegetables, herbs, sausage, ragus, shellfish, or game are added at different stages of the cooking process, giving risotto an ever-changing identity. It is one of the most versatile dishes in Italian gastronomy.

To tell the truth, I never read that passage before tonight. In fact, I am surprised and pleased to find that Italy Al Dente contains 34 Risotto recipes.

I learned to truly love risotto while I was studying Italian in Italy. Ahhh.... one of the best decisions of my life... laid off from the dot com bubble burst, I packed up my things and headed to Italy. I came home with wine to age, cooking skills, and an appreciation for relaxation that I never could have imagined. But, I digress...

The school cook made risotto once a week or so. But the local restaurants/bars had it available upon request. I ordered it regularly. Never once, in the more than 2 months I was in Italy, was a dish of risotto the same as a previous one. I came to realize that it was more of a style of cooking than a dish. It was a style I loved. And, it was a style that appealed to my sense of efficiency and economy because it was open to including just about any left-overs that were available.

Biba says, Two ingredients always part of a risotto are rice and broth. She goes on to discuss the need for the appropriate rice. Italo-philes (and Biba) will claim you need Arborio, Vialone Nano, or Carnaroli. But I'm not lying when I tell you that I've made many a risotto with California's poster-child Calrose rice and so long as you are adding some sort of binding agent (anything with its own sugar, starch, or fat) no one will complain.

Purists will also claim that you must constantly stir the risotto as it simmers and that you must add the broth pre-heated, a small portion at a time. Ridiculous purists will additionally claim you need to make your own broth.

Let's be frank. Who has time for that shit?

NOT ME. At least not on a regular basis. And, after probably at least 100 risotti prepared and served, I can say with authority: it's true that when you do it the old-fashioned way, it's better. When you use the recommended rice, it does tend to be slightly more interesting, texturally speaking. When you use pre-warmed broth (because even when I make turkey broth from the thanksgiving carcass, I still chill it and have to re-heat it for later use. I'm not making broth and risotto on the same day!) and/or when you continuously stir, more starch is released from the rice, resulting in a creamier texture.

But, 90% of the goods are in the basics. And the basics are this:

1. Chop 1/2 to 1 white/yellow onion. In a pinch, you can use a red onion.
2. Drizzle cooking oil 2 or 3 times around the outside of a large casserole (or sautee pan, or stock pot, or whatever). Heat oil on medium and add onions, stirring quickly.
3. Optional (but I don't think I've ever opted out): finely mince 3-4 cloves garlic. Toss into the oil/onions and stir vigorously for a minute or so 'til the onions are clear.
4. Add rice and stir. Keep adding rice and stiring 'til there's no longer a visible layer of oil on the bottom of the pan.
5. Add the first dousing of liquid. Many recipes use an alcohol here to add sugar (white wine, vodka, vermuth, feel free to skip this step, I often do, especially when I'm going to use stewed tomatoes).
6. The broth phase: Vegetarian broth; Chicken broth; Beef broth; Fish broth; Boullion cubes and water; Whatever strikes your fancy, really. If you're hard core, add just a little that's boiling when you add it. If you're me, dump in a can of broth, stir, leave to simmer and come back to stir every few minutes. When the liquid has been absorbed and/or boiled off, take a forkful and test the rice. Keep adding more liquid and re-testing the rice 'til the rice is al dente (still responds to the teeth as something to bite through, but relatively soft).
7. Once the rice is al dente and the liquid is all absorbed, you're done. Toss in your binding agent if you're using one (cream, butter, cheese, etc.), stir 'til it's evenly mixed throughout, and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Variations: substitute canned stewed tomatoes for some of the broth -- they contribute additional starch, act as a binding agent and the flavor is excellent. Add vegetables towards the end of the cycle (Carrots, frozen eggplant, 15 minutes before done. Brocolli, chopped fresh tomatoes, 7-8 minutes before done. Mushrooms, early, like immediately after the rice is browned. Meat, if pre-cooked, add at the same time as the binding agent. If raw, follow a recipe.)

Many happy returns.

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