Monday, December 19, 2011

Eat This . . .

Yesterday, i bought a little fat spruce tree and decorated it with plump Christmas lights and it glowed all evening out on the porch in the blue cold, while we were warmed by a supper of braised chicken, carrots, radishes, and turnips with leftover risotto. Leftover Risotto? Yes, my dear readers from San Jose, there might be only one thing that is better than Risotto, and that is Leftover Risotto. Braised Radishes? I'll talk about them another time, but you can hold me to this, I may never eat a raw radish again.

So who do you turn to for the purest of Risotto recipes? Of course you head straight to Venice's Calle Vallaresso, near the Piazza San Marco, and duck into Harry's Bar, where else? And listen carefully to Arrigo Cipriani when he demands, "This is the simplest risotto--there is nothing extra to hide mediocre rice, a bad butter, or a tasteless Parmigiano." Got that? Don't be cheap with anything in life, especially risotto. And when he advises that the chicken stock be homemade, take him for his word on that, but if you can't, find a good organic, low sodium stock at the store, and no bouillon or may the gods strike you dead.  Once you have mastered this Risotto, then you may spread your wings and dare to make things so delicate as Risotto Alla Milanese (Saffron Risotto), or Risotto Con Asparagi (Risotto with Asparagus), or Risotto Con Porcini (Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms) - one of my favorite ways to enjoy Risotto is to find wild mushrooms at the market (not in the woods, all you will find there is poisonous mushrooms!) and sauté them with a couple of slices of bacon and then add peas. The Harry's Bar Cookbook is rich with Risotto ideas really, let your mind run wild . . . what will i have with my risotto tonight?

RISOTTO PARMIGIANO
Basic Risotto with Parmesan Cheese

(from Arrigo Cipriani's The Harry's Bar Cookbook)

This is the simplest risotto--there is nothing extra to hide a mediocre rice, a bad butter, or a tasteless Parmigiano. Everything has to be perfect. . . Once you have made it a few times, you'll find it comes as second nature. It's a good idea to have some boiling water on the stove, in case you run out of stock before the risotto is finished.

SERVES 6 AS A FIRST COURSE

5 to 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (1.250 to 1.5 ml)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 1/2 cups short-grain Italian rice, preferably Vialone or Carnaroli (about 250 g)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature (45 g)
2/5 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (80 g) plus extra to pass at the table
salt
freshly ground pepper


Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan and keep it a at bare simmer.


Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed 3-quart (2 3/4 liter) saucepan and cook the onion over medium heat, stirring until the onion is golden but not brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon to coat the rice well with the oil and onion. Turn the heat to medium-high, add about 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the simmering stock, and keep the mixture boiling, stirring constantly. As soon as the stock has been absorbed, add another 1/2 cup (125 ml) of stock and stir until it is absorbed. You may have to adjust the heat from time to time--the risotto has to keep boiling, but it must not stick to the pot. If your risotto tends to stick, put the pot on a Flame Tamer (Wolfy has one of these things and she cannot recommend this tool more highly). Continue adding stock about 1/2 cup (125 ml) at a time, stirring constantly and waiting until each portion is absorbed before adding the next, until the rice is creamy and tender on the outside with each grain still distinct and firm. This will take at least 20 minutes, maybe as long as 30 minutes, depending on your pot and your stove. If the rice is still a bit hard in the middle after you have used all but a few tablespoons of the stock, add boiling water 1/4 cup (60 ml) at a time, stirring it in as you did the stock, until each grain of rice is tender but still has the slightest bit of firmness and the mixture is creamy.

Remove the pan from the heat and vigorously stir in the butter and the Parmesan. This stirring will make the risotto even creamier. Taste and season with salt and pepper. While continuing to stir vigorously, add the few remaining tablespoons of hot stock (or boiling water if you've used all the stock) to make the consistency softer and softer. In Italy we call it all'onda--like a wave. Taste carefully for seasoning and serve immediately, passing a small bowl of Parmesan cheese. 

Wolfy Note on Leftover Risotto: i like to put the risotto in a lightly oiled baking dish and bake it at 350 degrees until its slightly golden. But as Arrigo says, there are many ways to make leftover risotto, such as his "pancakes" -- To reheat risotto in a frying pan: Use a nonstick pan. Heat the pan over medium heat and melt 2 tablespoons (30 g) of butter. When the butter is hot, add rounded tablespoons of risotto and flatten into pancakes with the back of the spoon. Fry the risotto until then are golden brown, then turn them and fry on the other side, adding more butter as needed.

Wine Notes:
Italian: Arneis "Blange" - Ceretto
American: Chardonnay - Mt. Veeder

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