Friday, 4 May 2012

Spring Risotto

Spring Risotto with wild mushrooms and fiddleheads

Risotto is one of my all time favourite things to make. I learned my original recipe from Jamie Oliver's Italy cookbook and I’ve never looked back. Risotto is one of those foods that feels completely indulgent and guilt inducing, but really isn’t that unhealthy at all. Despite being totally creamy and delicious, it has no dairy to it (besides a little butter, but we’ll get to that later). If you ever go to a restaurant and there is cream in the risotto, walk away. That chef is a liar. They are likely not to be trusted to use quality ingredients or take the time to create something wonderful.

Risotto’s creaminess comes from all the stirring you will do. This gently brings the starch out of the rice and creates the creaminess that we all love so much. Now, I should say that risotto is a slow-burn… it is, in fact, somewhat of a commitment to make. Anyone who says that you can just whip a risotto together in twenty minutes is a fool and has probably never made it. So, ignore them and do be prepared to spend about an hour making this. (I hear that collective gasp- an hour! No, this ain’t no Rachel Ray 30 Minute Meal here, this is a labour of love.) However, that being said, I did just make myself a risotto on a Friday after work (full disclosure: I work from home), but I love cooking on a Friday night, mostly because I love drinking wine on a Friday night. And I promise you- there is no better meal to drink wine while you cook to than a risotto. (And yes, I am the type of person to make an individual serving of risotto for oneself- my self-absorption/indulgence knows no bounds).

The only other think to consider when making risotto is your ingredients. A few ingredients are absolute must-haves: You must have Arborio rice, you must have fresh onion and you definitely want at least one fresh herb in the fray. After that, there are a couple of negotiables. Ideally, you will also have fresh garlic, fresh lemons, homemade chicken stock (see Soups for that recipe) and Parmesan Reggiano to grate freshly. In the world that is not a Food Network set kitchen, you can also make do with that pre-chopped garlic, store bought lemon juice (although I really don’t recommend it- lemons are 2 for a $1.29), store bought stock and-shame!- pre-grated parmesan. Your white wine matters only if you plan on drinking the rest of the bottle, which I often do.

With ingredients, especially in risotto, you get what you put in. Keep that in mind- you have ALL DAY Sunday to get your ass to Loblaws and buy some fresh lemons. So do it.

Onwards to the recipe then. After your basic white risotto, you can put almost anything you want in it. Today, I cried out with joy when I saw Fiddleheads in the store. Two things signify “spring” to me: the new LCBO “Early Summer” Food and Drink Magazine, and fiddleheads. Having my handy iPhone (can we get a sponsorship payment here?) in the store, I quickly Googled “fiddlehead risotto”. Lo and behold, I found this little number:
It just so happens I was planning on putting mushrooms in my risotto, so this worked well.

Basic risotto for 2 people, you’ll need:

-       1 cup Arborio rice
-       1 cup white wine
-       2 tbsp olive oil
-       6-8 cups of stock (if you were feeding vegetarians, this can be vegetable stock)
-       1 large onion, chopped
-       6-8 cloves of garlic (this is a matter of taste, really. I love garlic, so I go to hell with it)
-       1 bay leaf
-       Parmesan cheese
-       Splash of lemon juice (1 juicy lemon)

That’s about it. Then, you can add whatever you like to it. For this one, I used:

-       15 fiddleheads (okay I didn’t use that many, but if you were 2 people you would)
-       Handful of mushrooms (not button ones- try to be a bit exciting, you can get wild mushrooms blends for sale and they are great)
-       Several sprigs of thyme
-       3 tbsp of butter

To start, put on some music. I can’t stop playing Santigold’s Master of My Make Believe. You are committing to about an hour in the kitchen, so make the most of it. Remember that wine you need? Pour yourself a glass of it. If cooking isn’t your thing (as it is mine), take a deep breath and try to enjoy yourself. This is worth it.

First things first- risotto is mostly about timing. Take the time to prep all your ingredients. Chop your onion and garlic. Chop your mushrooms quite roughly and also the fiddleheads, but save a few to keep whole for your “plating”. (Oh yes y’all- you are going to “plate” this meal!) You also need to take your stock and put it on a small pot on medium heat. It needs to be hot when you add it to the risotto. Finally, preheat your oven to 375°.

In a large pot, add your olive oil and then sauté your onions on a med-high heat. You don’t want any colour on the onions; just get them nice and soft. Then add your garlic and sauté that a bit. Now add your rice and toast it in the pot a little. The next part is the best part- if you are on a date, find an excuse to get your date in the kitchen for this part. You are going to blow some minds here. Get your wine and pour it in to deglaze the pot. It smells incredible, the sound is dramatic and you look like a total professional.

Here comes the serious part now. You need to start stirring. Give that a good stir and then put your chopped mushrooms and all the fiddleheads on a tray. Chop up some butter in chunks and put that on the vegetables. Add your thyme, some salt and pepper. Fire that into the oven for a little roasting. Like this: 

Chopped mushrooms and fiddleheads with butter, thyme and seasoning

Forget about that now and think only of stirring.

This stage will need to be repeated several times. When the rice has started to absorb all the liquid (first it is the wine, after that it becomes the stock), you need to add more hot stock. Add about a cup at a time, and stir your ass off! As soon as it gets thick again, add more stock. Keep your heat at about a 6 or 7. If you go higher than that, you risk having the liquid cook faster than the rice can absorb. And stir! At some point, take a break to get out your plates. They need to be at the ready for the rice when it’s done.

Your rice will start to look done- it becomes about twice its size and more opaque. Want to know the best way to tell if it’s done? Taste it. You want the rice to still have a bit of a bite to it, but definitely not crunchy. While you’re at it, check your seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.

We are probably at about 30 minutes of stirring here. Your vegetables won’t need that long to roast though- especially not fiddleheads. Give them 15-20 minutes and call it a day.

Your rice is soft? The vegetables roasted? Perfect. Stir in all the chopped vegetables to the rice. Keep the whole ones aside. Add the juice of your lemon, chopped fresh parsley if you have it, and the Parmesan. Dish it out in bowls or plates in an attractive way (we’re plating here, people!) Finally, top each dish with some whole fiddleheads or mushrooms. Serve immediately, this isn’t a meal that should sit around for very long.

Final Plating
Voila! You’ve done it- your risotto will be amazing. And once you perfect this, I promise you will be a risotto snob. You’ll be the type of person who really can’t abide any kind of pre-made risotto, and you’ll make yourself single size servings on a Friday night.

- Bailey

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