Tuesday, January 27, 2009

R-easy-otto: An Experimental Recipe

I was puzzling over what to cook for myself and a couple friends - I wanted something vaguely Italian, but nothing too heavy and nothing too complicated. So I decided to go for risotto. Wait a minute, you say - but wait. Contrary to popular belief, risotto is NOT (at least not always or necessarily) in a cream sauce. It is just the starch released from the rice that creates the creamy texture. And risotto is far from complicated. Like any one-dish meal, it is scary how simple it is.

I had no recipe in mind when I dropped into Fresh Grocer to scour the produce section. I had glanced at a few options and so had in mind the general technique, plus I knew from experience common ingredients, but this was still an experiment. So I came away with two shallots, two yellow squash, a few handfuls of cremini mushrooms (way cheaper to get the loose than the packaged), and a bunch of kale. (Leafy greens? Why yes!) I also grabbed the backbones of the dish: arborio rice and vegetable broth.

Onwards, to the kitchen we go!

Basically, here's what you do:
1. Put some olive oil in a large pot, preferably wide bottom but it doesn't really matter. Don't skimp on this. Seriously.
2. Chop up some garlic, I used 3 cloves, but it's up to your taste.
3. Chop up the shallots (you can use any kind of onion), put it in with the olive oil and garlic, and turn on your stove. This is really just to get the oil flavored so don't worry if your onions aren't cooked.
4. WASH and chop all your veggies. If you use a leafy green like kale, I recommend cutting or ripping it up into bite size pieces because the high fiber content makes it stringy and hard to bite through if you have big pieces.
5. Put all your veggies into the pot with the oil, garlic, and onion family member. Don't worry if there's water. Remember, we're making rice here. Rice <3 water. I also added some pepper, "italian seasoning mix" (something I would not have done had I been in my own kitchen), and a bit of oregano. The seasoning choices are completely up to you. Experiment! But think about your veggies and make sure they'll go well.
6. Measure out 1 cup of rice and dump it in. This amount of rice made a dish that served 3 hungry girls (we play hockey, we don't eat like wusses).
7. Most risotto recipes, especially the pretentious ones, will tell you your broth should be hot. Whatever. For 1 cup of rice I used 3 cups of room temperature vegetable broth.
8. Stir it up a little, cover it maybe, or don't, but if you don't you might have to add more liquid later on. Make sure your heat is on low because you want it to be simmering. Barely. Boil is bad.
9. Once in a while, stir. When it gets towards the end (when the liquid starts to really disappear) taste your rice. Is it al dente (this is the goal)? Is it hard? Use your judgment as to when it will be done and if you will need more liquid. You shouldn't have to add more than a half cup extra liquid especially if you are using moist veggies.
10. When it is done - that is, the rice is al dente, perfectly cooked, a bit creamy, and the liquid is basically gone, give it a good go 'round with your stirring utensil, which will help loosen it up and cream-ify it a bit.
11. It'll be hot, but taste-test. Needs some salt? Add it in.
12. Dish it out and enjoy! We added parmesan onto our bowls for another flavor, but you can totally do it without cheese if you so choose.

Literally the hardest part of making risotto is waiting for it to be done. Don't let anyone scare you out of this dish. It's ridiculously easy and all your friends will be super impressed. What, don't you want to be the next Food Network Star?

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