Monday, April 02, 2007

So as not to lose the habit

Dear Internet,

It's been a while since I got all foodiefied on you. Partly because NOS's tonsils burst into open flame, and partly because I didn't want this to be A Foodie Blog. But I figure you have to eat, and I can't put a light under a bushel (to riff off Sacred Writ) and therefore I bring you something springy. (At this time of the year, it should also work for the Southern Hemisphere types, if acted upon with no undue delay.)

Now is the time of the year when the Foodie thinks of risotto. Mostly because Spring has sprung and fresh new vegetables have sprung right along with it. Fresh basil, tomatoes are all starting to peek from the bins of the stellar folk who keep the Farmer’s Markets humming. A bounty is heading our way and we should do it homage. The Foodie mindset is filled not with restrictions, but with possibilities. Therefore, a risotto. It is a good and delicious thing, crammed to the rafters with the nutritional goodness of tomatoes (lycopene, beta-carotene and almost certainly oodles of as-yet-unknown-enes). This risotto straddles many divides, it is warming since the evenings and nights are still crisp, but light so you don’t feel leaden by 8pm. In our case, 9pm...but you get the idea.

The keys to this, as all Foodie things in the Foodieverse, are primarily portion and proportion. (This means that standing over the kitchen sink and eating it out of the pot with the wooden spoon is contrary to The Foodie Code.) This risotto makes a stellar side dish to accompany a bit of grilled chicken (liberally rubbed with Italian herbs, or maybe
gremolata) or some sauteed or grilled shrimp or prawns (my Lenten fave), with an accompaniment of some garlic/red pepper-y sautéed spinach or rapini. This is one of those recipes where it is really key is to use the absolute best ingredients you can find. The fewer steps something takes from farm to palate, the better it will taste, the more it will satisfy you and the greater the benefits.

RISOTTO MARGHERITA (Serves 6)
1½ cups grape* tomatoes (halved & seeded…tomato seeds are kind of bitter)
2 tablespoons fresh basil – rolled up and cut into VERY fine shreds** in a chiffonade
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin*** olive oil
1 - 1½ teaspoons kosher or sea salt (start with the ½ and adjust to taste)
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
5 cups “pale” defatted chicken stock**** (if you are using store bought, try to get the kind that is low in sodium and is aseptically packaged in a box)
½ cup yellow onion, diced
1½ cups raw arborio (if you can’t find it but have a Spanish/Latin market nearby, “Valencia” will work in a pinch; if you want to be hyperfoodie, try carnaroli or vialone) rice
½ cup dry white wine, a leftover Pinot Grigio would work here
2 ounces fresh mozzarella***** cheese, diced (if you get the smaller sized ones -- bocconcini or ciliengine -- your life will be a lot easier)
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1- Combine the tomatoes, basil, half of the EVOO, ½ teaspoon of salt and garlic in a small bowl, toss well and set aside.


2- Bring stock to a simmer (don’t boil!) in a medium saucepan and keep it warm. Yes, you could “zap” it if you simply must.


3- Heat the other tablespoon of EVOO in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and sauté it until it’s translucent (figure 3 minutes or so). Add the rice, and sauté for an additional minute. Stir constantly, since it’s vital to fully and evenly coat the in the EVOO. Add wine, and cook yet another minute or until it has been nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. (Make sure nothing sticks.)


4- Here is the key part. Add warm stock one ladleful at a time, stirring until each ladleful of stock is absorbed prior to adding the next ladleful…figure about 20 minutes total. Yes, you may switch hands. No, you don't need to stir it constantly. Every couple of minutes or so, just when the stock is pretty much -- +/- 75% -- absorbed. The purpose of the stirring is to help evenly release the starch molecules into the liquid, to generate the requisite creaminess.


5- Add tomatoes & co., cooking another couple of minutes, stirring GENTLY (so as not to mush up the tomatoes you just spent all that time cutting and cleaning.



6- Remove from heat, stir in mozzarella (slowly, in small batches)


7- Sprinkle each serving with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pepper.


8- Do your impression of Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally


VARIATIONS: Use half as much slivered sun-dried tomatoes instead, and the oil from the SDT jar instead of EVOO. Use fresh thyme instead of basil. Once you get the basic technique down (sautee aromatics, sautee rice, add wine & stock in increments, add flavorings) you can risotto-ize anything...to much fanfare. For example, swapping out the tomatoes for reconstituted porcinis, some of the stock for the porcini soaking liquid, thyme for the basil and gorgonzola for the mozzarella. Etc.



So there.



-J.


* You could use other types of tomato, but aim for the as small as possible to you have as optimal a ratio of tomato skin to flesh, to help them hold their shape. However, anything from "plum" on down will be fine, if that whole "holding its shape" thing doesn't mean so much to you. I expect it didn't to whichever Italian peasant grandma invented this.


** As fine as you have patience for


*** Since we’re trying to minimize greasiness and/or heaviness, it is vital to use the most flavorful stuff you can get your hands on. Otherwise you'd need a gallon of the stuff to be able to have some EVOO taste.


**** When you make your own stocks (and you simply must!) do not roast the bits you are using if you want a pale stock, as you would in this case. Just start with raw chicken scraps and cold water.


***** Use the “regular” cow’s milk—also called fior di latte—here. The nuances of the buffalo mozzarella would be lost by cooking.


Posted by Joke at 8:15 AM

19 Comments

  • Blogger Tere posted at 10:27 AM, April 02, 2007  
    I don't consider myself a foodie but am about to launch a food blog. Once I find a good name. It'll be a combo of food memories, fave recipes, dissecting the Food Network - that kind of thing. I have big plans and high hopes for this baby!
  • Blogger Sarah O. posted at 3:44 PM, April 02, 2007  
    Hey, I started doing my impression of Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally the moment I saw the photo!

    Then I kinda lost the mood at the word "squid".

    Then I got it back with the term "fior di latte".

    I love good foodie writing.
  • Blogger meggie posted at 5:26 PM, April 02, 2007  
    I think the Aussie equivalent tomatoes are called 'cherry'.
    This sounds like a recipe I will have to make.
  • Blogger Joke posted at 9:01 PM, April 02, 2007  
    Lemony,

    WHAT squid?

    -J.
  • Blogger Sarah O. posted at 9:13 PM, April 02, 2007  
    Good grief, this is my week to make you wonder about me.

    Well, the best I can figure is that my son shrieked (He's OK. He got very frustrated at this software he's writing) and I bolted away from reading your entry. Somehow the word "liquid" turned into "squid" in my brain. Probably because I was thinking about what seafood not to put in the recipe.

    Anyhoo, I'm really glad you didn't suggest putting squid in this orgasmic dish.
  • Blogger Stomper Girl posted at 10:27 PM, April 02, 2007  
    Definitely risotto weather for us at present. I will definitely try this, firstly because I have some absolutely succulent basil in the garden at present which can't last much longer and secondly because you've told me I don't have to stir non-stop!! See, I've made risotto before and found myself resenting it for making me stay chained to the stove for 20 minutes whilst giving me RSI. Your instructions sound a bit less martial and are, as always, so clear.
  • Blogger Joke posted at 10:32 PM, April 02, 2007  
    SG,

    As long as the rice isn't:

    a) adhering to the bottom of the pan, and
    b) running "dry"

    you needn't stir.

    The reason why recipes suggest that you stir nonstop, lest Armageddon arrive with more force than expected, is because that's more foolproof. You can't "miss" a stir if you don't stop.

    Me? I conscript the lads. It keeps them busy and out of my hair.

    -J.
  • Blogger Joke posted at 10:33 PM, April 02, 2007  
    Yikes!

    I mean "you needn't stir nonstop."

    -J.
  • Blogger julia posted at 12:07 AM, April 03, 2007  
    Now, this might be a risotto that TCBIM would eat. He (sit down. And don't sputter) doesn't like any variation of Paremsan cheese. I. Can't. Stand. It. I love Parmesan. Peccorino, Asiago, whatever. Cheese. Cheeeeeeeeeese. And he doesn't like it. But since this recipe just calls for it to be added at the end, I just might be able to get him to eat it.

    I have some lovely asparagus that I need to use...wonder if that would work in a risotto. Any ideas? Maybe with shrimp? Yes? No? Maybe?
  • Blogger Joke posted at 12:12 AM, April 03, 2007  
    Shrimp and asparagus risotto would be very excellent and could be cheese-free. You could even use leftover asparagus.

    -J.
  • Blogger Poppy Buxom posted at 12:27 AM, April 03, 2007  
    There's only one thing I want to know (because I sure as hell am not going to cook this recipe for risotto, or for that matter, any recipe for risotto, as I find risotto almost completely over-rated and way too labor-intensive, so I only eat it in restaurants, and even then, only under duress):

    Does anyone out there actually try to deal with Joke's asterisks? Because I swear, even thinking* about maybe trying to follow the text up and down my laptop screen** gives me the beginning of a blinding cluster headache.***

    *I use the term loosely
    **And it's a big screen too. Laptop -in-VistaVision, that's me.
    ***Not a migraine. Migraines are so nineties. They're the flannel shirt of crippling disorders that make people think you're hypochondriacal.
  • Blogger Joke posted at 7:47 AM, April 03, 2007  
    P.,

    1- I remember that waiter at Au Briot twisting your arm to have the wild mushroom risotto.

    2- From now on, I'll use endnotes.

    3- It was Jujube that led me to engage in asterisky behavior.

    -J.
  • Blogger daysgoby posted at 10:43 AM, April 03, 2007  
    Oh, lord, now I must make.

    Hey! More recipes! Puh-leeze!
  • Blogger julia posted at 1:54 PM, April 03, 2007  
    I wait until I get to the end of the post and then I read the asterisks. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes, not so much.
  • Blogger meggie posted at 6:02 PM, April 03, 2007  
    I dont see anything wrong with a good asterisk or 5.
  • Blogger Poppy Buxom posted at 11:13 PM, April 03, 2007  
    (Hey, don't look now, Joke, but I think you have a new girlfriend.)

    Oh, to be the lonely non-foodie in such a large group of internet gourmets. The voice crying out in the wilderness, that's what I am.

    I console myself with the hope that you all hardly ever cook, and when you do, it's Mac and Cheese out of the blue box, and you just pretend to care about Joke's recipes because you have a crush on him.
  • Blogger Joke posted at 11:38 PM, April 03, 2007  
    Poppy,

    You may rest easy knowing you're the only one to whom I've ever shown my tattoo.

    -J.
  • Blogger KitchenKiki posted at 9:11 AM, April 04, 2007  
    I'm not sure I'm grasping the concept of "left-over" pinot gris. You'll need to explain that one.

    And having read this, I am leaning towards a shrimp & asparagus risotto for dinner. Though it is WAY to early in the day for me to commit. (And, I'm not sure what cheese is currently in the mysterious cheese drawer.)

    Thanks for sharing!
  • Blogger My float posted at 9:33 AM, April 04, 2007  
    I was tired before I read this. Now I'm tired AND hungry, and it's 11.30pm. I had a salad of carrot, zucchini and onion. What I REALLY want is that risotto. Excuse the tongue marks on the picture. Oh wait, that doesn't work...
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