Monday, December 20, 2010

The Difficulties of Risotto

Recipe: Winter Risotto with Butternut Squash and Broccolini

Risotto is one of those dishes that I never seem to get right. There are a few dishes in my repertoire, such as getting homemade bread to rise properly or really anything to do with baking, that no matter how many times I make it something always goes wrong. The procedure behind risotto is a fairly simple concept. Saute some garnish and arborio rice, reduce some wine, and add hot stock bit by bit until the rice is cooked. But you can add too much stock or not enough, cook the rice too fast or too slow, stir the pot too much or too little, and before you know it you wind up with a glutenous (or rock hard) mess without any idea of what you did (or didn't do) wrong (or right).

But Oh! When you get it right, risotto is an amazing dish. Comforting on cold winter days with a bit of braised parsnips and kale, relaxing on a spring afternoon and paired with asparagus and artichokes, refreshing in summer with roasted corn and tomatoes, and hearty for fall when eaten with a bite of squash. Creamy and chewy, aromatic and warm, risotto is that wonderful buttery comfort food that is perfect in every season.

My mother and I had consumed risotto many times at reputable restaurants across the country before we thought to make it at home. This was way before my professional cooking days, but after my "rainbow sprinkles on EVERYTHING" era. My mom and I were adventurous eaters, but needed some practice in the kitchen. Needless to say, our homemade risotto was TERRIBLE. We added way more stock than the recipe called for, but the rice was still terribly undercooked. I think we were so frustrated by the whole experience that we threw the rice in the garbage and ordered pizza.

Risotto is a laborious dish, and can be frustrating to the inexperienced. But don't give up! All it needs is a little gentle love, or as Otis Redding would say: "Try a little tenderness." I got it wrong many times before I got it right.

Here are a few tips:

1. Add the stock one cup at a time and make sure its hot! Hot rice + hot stock = faster absorption time.

2. Cook it over medium flames. If its too hot the rice won't cook, if its too low the rice will get gummy. You need to be like Goldilocks and get it "Just right."

3. Don't over stir the rice. You want to stir in the stock, but if you're constantly stirring the rice will break apart. The gluten from the rice is supposed to ooze out a little bit to form a sort of creamy sauce, but you should see whole rice kernels in the finished result. This will give you a great texture. If you over stir, the end result will be a gummy mess.

If you follow the tips you should end up with the perfect risotto. Hopefully. Happy cooking!

Winter Risotto with Butternut Squash and Broccolini

1/2 onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup butternut squash, small dice
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons dried thyme
24 oz Arborio Rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
8 cups hot vegetable stock
2 cups shaved parmesan reggiano
Salt and Pepper to taste
Garnish: blanched Broccolini and oven roasted tomatoes

1. Sweat onion, garlic and butternut squash in butter for two to three minutes until onions start turning translucent. Toss with dried thyme. Stir in rice and cook for two minutes. Add wine and reduce until almost evaporated.
2. Add hot stock one cup at a time, stirring occasionally. You can keep the stock simmering on the stove. Wait until stock has been completely absorbed before adding the next cup.
3. Once rice is cooked through, add cheese and season with salt and pepper.

For garnishes:
1. Bring pot of salted water to a boil. Add package of broccolini and cook for four minutes or until tender. Drain water and shock broccolini in ice water.
2. Saute in butter just before serving. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Using halved cherry tomatoes or quartered roma tomatoes, toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place on a rack and roast in oven for 15 minutes.

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