In which I feel very proud of myself…

Victory is mine...

Victory is mine...

So, I started a post last night that I was going to finish tonight and post, and in the meantime, I came home from work tonight and decided to make myself some risotto. I have been wanting to write about risotto, because it gets a bad rap for its difficulty, and I think it is undeserved. So anyway, I figured I would make risotto and pay attention and take pictures (to prove that you don’t have to be stirring every minute) and let you all know how it went. Maybe it would encourage you to give it a try, we could muddle through it together and see how it goes. Except here’s the thing. I OWNED this risotto. It came out spot on. I am so excited, I had to tell you all about it. I think you need to try this pronto, because I promise, I didn’t do anything crazy or special. I probably paid a bit closer attention than usual, because I was trying to take notes for the blog, but other than that, I just did my thing.

Risotto is an Italian rice dish. Short grain rice is cooked adding liquid gradually, so the dish ends up creamy and rich, more like a pasta than a rice. You can make tons of different variations with vegetables, seafood or cheese. At its best it is comforting, both to make and to eat. I think part of its charm is that it requires some attention while it is being prepared. It is very therapeutic, and when you create something fantastic, it is very exciting. Arborio rice is the most common rice to use, and the easiest to find in the stores, but I found a box of Carnaroli rice in, of all places, the kitchen and housewares section of TJ Maxx, so I used that for my risotto tonight.

The other things that you need are an onion, some wine, some chicken stock and some cheese. Tonight I also made use of some butternut squash, an apple, some tempura batter and another onion. Stay tuned, this is going to be good.

First things first: I had roasted a small butternut squash on Sunday night, that I didn’t end up using, so I decided to use it in my risotto. I put it in the blender to await some warm chicken stock for pureeing. Secondly I finely diced an apple that I had for garnish. Thirdly, I sliced a small onion into rounds, and soaked it in cold water to remove some of the bite. None of these steps are necessary for a great risotto, but they were necessary for this great risotto. I also measured out a half cup of flour in a small bowl for the tempura. Also not required for a standard risotto.

And now, to the good stuff.  First I brought six cups of chicken stock to a simmer on the back of the stove. The chicken stock needs to be warm when you add it to the cooking rice. Then I diced an onion and added it to a saute pan with olive oil over medium heat.

the start of all good things.

the start of all good things.

As the onion softened, I added a teaspoon of ras el-hanout. Ras el-hanout is a Moroccan spice blend that has gained in fame around here recently. It translates to “head of the shop” and is traditionally made of whatever the best spices that a shop has in the house. Most include mixtures of cardamom, paprika, cumin, cinnamon and tumeric, and can contain up to 100 ingredients. It is not easy to describe the flavor, but it adds something behind the scenes. It takes and smells smokey, and it added a lovely yellow color to the risotto. And it just so happens that my littlest sister traveled to Morocco last fall and brought me some right from the source. Authentic!

head of the shop

head of the shop

See the pretty yellow? Next I added the rice. I let the rice toast a little bit,

toasty and ready for some wine...

toasty and ready for some wine...

when it got dry on the bottom of the pan I added wine. I had heated the wine a little bit so it wasn’t refrigerator cold when it went into the pan. They always tell you to heat the chicken stock before you add it to the rice so the protein doesn’t seize up, but they never mention to do that with the wine, which doesn’t make any sense since it goes in first, so I heated it a little bit by pouring it into a measuring cup and putting the measuring cup in the heating stock for a minute. It worked out.

Wine makes it all better.

Wine makes it all better.

Once the wine goes in I started stirring. You do have to stir, you just don’t have to stir constantly. You can stop and take a picture, you can answer the phone, you can grate a half cup of cheese to use in your risotto…you get my point. You want to stir so all of the rice has a chance to absorb the wine, and so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. As the wine gets absorbed, the pan gets drier obviously. You want to keep stirring until the rice is dry enough to stay put when you run your spoon along the bottom of the pan, if the rice and liquid fill in the path you created, don’t add any more liquid yet. For instance:

ready for more liquid...

ready for more liquid...

At this point I added the first batch of simmering chicken stock. I added 1/2 cup of stock, and stirred like I did with the wine. As the rice absorbed the liquid and the pan got dry, I added more. I did this seven more times. Here is what it looked like half way through…

half way there.

half way there.

As each batch of liquid was absorbed I tested a couple grains of rice. I recommend doing this. I was able to gauge how close I was getting to the end, and guess how much more stock I would need, as well as test for flavor. When the rice was close to finished – you want soft creamy rice with a bit of a bite in the middle, like al dente pasta – I added a half cup of stock to the blender with the butternut squash and pureed it. Then I added the pureed squash to the rice…

almost there

almost there

along with a half cup of pecorino romano and another half cup of stock.

As I was cooking the rice, I also heated oil and mixed the club soda and flour for the tempura. The onions that I soaked went into the batter, and as I added the squash, cheese and last batch of stock, I dumped the onions into the oil to fry.

garnish

garnish

When the onions came out of the oil, I plated the risotto. I added some of the diced apples and topped it off with the fried onions.

voila!

voila!

I was really hoping I was going to like this, and I really, really did. The risotto was really rich and cheesy, and the apple was crisp and sweet and cool. The onions were a savory crunchy treat on top. I think I would have liked to have fresh sage to fry along with the onions, it would have added delicious flavor and some great color, because the one thing this was lacking in was contrasting color. But for an experiment, I am pretty excited. Both because the risotto came out great and because the variation was a good one.

I will post a recipe tomorrow, but right now I am exhausted.

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