Thursday, July 14, 2011

All about risotto

As a young child, on the rare occasion that we would eat out, a strange thing would happen. Without even trying, the first thing that sounded good to me, the first thing I would point out that I wanted, was usually, with rare exception, the most expensive thing on the menu.
Now, my dad likes to try new things. My mom doesn't. She does now a lot more, but as a general rule, she doesn't. Somehow I inherited the desire to try new things from my dad. There are very few things that scare me when it comes to food. I said food, not disgusting combinations people come up with to see if they can make you sick. Also, if it is a part of the animal that is not consumed in civilized cultures, I will probably pass.
I will try just about anything. I love to give everything a shot just once. I tried elk steak the other day for the first time. I have to say it tasted just like very lean beef, but anyway.
I am very glad to say that my husband is usually game to try anything also. Especially if I tell him it is good, or I think he would like it. That makes eating out and eating in general fun for the both of us. Many times, we will order two things on the menu that we both want to try and split them.
One thing my husband is not crazy about is mushrooms. When we were first married, well maybe it was a few years into it, I made a cream of mushroom soup. Not from a can, like real soup. I liked it. He didn't. He wouldn't even finish his. I even made these yummy cheese-topped crostini to go along with it, but nope. It just wasn't his thing. I like mushrooms. He will eat them with steak, but other than that, he'd rather just skip it. So, when I found a recipe for wild mushroom risotto, I thought I should pass. A whole dish devoted to mushrooms probably wouldn't be a good idea. But the risotto sounded amazing. I thought about just leaving them out, but when a whole dish is built around something you don't like, maybe you should just find another recipe.
I forgot about it. My husband and I ate at a restaurant and my fish came with risotto as a side. I had never had risotto, but I knew that was not it. Risotto is made with a special kind of rice, and constantly stirred, so it becomes creamy. This was long-grain rice that had some cheese added to it. I bent over and whispered in my husband's ear, "This is not risotto!" I was a little miffed, but it just reminded me that I wanted to make it at home.
Then, just a few months later, my copy of Saveur magazine was all about butter. I have to say it was an issue I really enjoyed. Lo, and behold, there was a recipe for risotto. Just plain risotto with butter, saffron, and Parmesan cheese. I made it. We loved it. End of story. If you have never made/had risotto you have got to try this. It is unbelievably creamy, buttery and just all around delicious. I have to admit before I had it I wondered what all the hoopla was about risotto. Now I know. And you should, too.

Risotto Alla Milanese
In Le Ricette Regionali Italiane (Solares, 1967), which contains the recipe on which this one is based, the food historian Anna Gosetti della Salda points out that the original formula for butter-rich risotto alla milanese is a subject of dispute. Some say wine was a key ingredient, others question whether saffron has always been included, but few dispute that you should sauté the rice before adding liquid and stir in extra butter at the end.
6 cups Chicken Stock
1⁄8 tsp. saffron threads
9 tbsp. unsalted butter (I always use salted)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cups vialone or arborio rice
1 cup grated grana padano (Parmasan cheese)
1. Bring stock to a bare simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Put saffron and 1⁄2 cup hot stock into a small bowl; cover and set aside to let soften. Cover stock; keep hot.
2. Heat 5 tbsp. butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onions; cook, stirring, until softened, 2–3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until opaque, about 4 minutes.
3. Add 1⁄2 cup stock; cook, stirring often, until stock is mostly absorbed, 2–3 minutes. Add another 1⁄2 cup stock; repeat process until all the stock is used, about 25 minutes total. Continue cooking rice until just al dente, about 3 minutes more. Strain saffron from stock over a bowl; set saffron aside. Pour saffron-infused stock into rice and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Gently stir in saffron threads. Remove from heat; stir in remaining butter and half the grated cheese. Serve risotto with remaining cheese on the side.

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