Is Risotto Worth It?

January 13 – January 19, 2020

Bucatini and beans

Monday:                   Leftover pasta / Cannellini with Parsley Pesto

(Incredibly, we have no pictures of the ‘keeper’ of the week.  But at the bottom

of the post is a picture from Mark Vetri’s fine book, Mastering Pasta)

Tuesday:                   Risotto w/ Mushrooms and Thyme

Turmeric Salmon

Wednesday:            Turmeric Salmon and braised Chard with Coconut Crisp

Thursday:                 Leftover Risotto and Salmon

Chicken Livers with Polenta

Friday:                       Crispy Chicken Livers with Polenta, Bacon and Mushrooms

Pizza for Stewarts 2

Saturday:                  Stewart Post-Holiday Cocktail Party (Pizza and Salad, Beer by Greg, Apple Crisp by Linda)  Linda’s crisp was the best food of the week, but we didn’t cook it and never will, because Linda does.  We’re also considering having Greg supply us with all future beer.

Beez with Rusty

Rusty and Beez, whom Rusty truly admires, prepping for a winter trek

Sunday:                     Noshed on left-overs while watching football.

The gravamen of the veiled complaint above* concerns the ratio between the amount of work and wrist attrition involved in cooking (stirring) an authentic risotto and the pleasure of consuming it.

*Is Risotto Worth It?

It is not possible to answer this question in the abstract.  It falls into the same category as so many of the larger questions:  Is getting married worth it?  Is it worthwhile to risk injury by playing sports?  Is it worth hours of your Saturday or Sunday to attend church or temple?  Should I have just one more salted caramel?

Well . . . it depends . . .

But I think that if you are human and have intact taste buds, are sane and are not fighting momentary deadlines or a screaming migraine or the Taliban then, yes, cooking risotto, which takes some time, some muscle and a good deal of attention is worth it.  [Oh, and getting married was certainly worth it, from my perspective, as was playing sports and as is going to church.  Also, the Times Sunday Crossword and Spelling Bee, reading War and Peace and The City of God and many other time and energy consuming tasks.]

But opinions vary.  I can’t see the point of walking across the Antarctic, but some (admittedly few) can.  I’m mystified about the lure of casinos and the food buffets attached to them.  And you couldn’t pay me to watch “Dancing with the Stars,” “Entertainment Tonight,” or cage-fighting.  But all of those things are more popular than Tolstoy, Augustine and, perhaps even the Times Crossword Puzzle.  So maybe I’m wrong about them.

BUT I’M NOT WRONG ABOUT RISOTTO – PARTICULARLY IF YOU COOK THE VERSION I MADE FOR MY SO WORTH-MARRYING­-HER BEEZ, LAST WEEK.  Sorry for raising my voice, but I really needed to get your attention because I want you to learn and pass on the art of cooking risotto – along with lasagna and meatloaf, the best one dish meals in the world.  And I wouldn’t mind if you invited me over to have some.

This particular version is adapted from bon appétit.  We also love pea and mushroom risotto, risotto with shrimp and would probably like risotto with shoe-leather, provided the shoe-leather was cooked until tender (approximately 2 years in a 350 F oven, I understand) and well-seasoned.

RISOTTO WITH MUSHROOMS AND THYME

(adapted from bon appétit, February, 2020)

This recipe is not difficult, but it requires attention.  You will be standing at the stove for about 45 minutes, perhaps a little less or more.  You should read through the recipe and get a firm grasp on the steps before starting.  And you should have all of the ingredients ready-at-hand.  You cannot keep stirring while you are grating cheese or measuring other ingredients.  But relax – there’s a lot of forgiveness in this recipe.  And even a half-good risotto beats a spectacular rice-a-roni.

Timing:                        45 minutes to cook – maybe 5 minutes prep

Ingredients:

For the risotto: 

2 cups canaroli rice (you can substitute arborio, but not any other rice, and the canaroli makes the best risotto)
½ large white onion, finely chopped
2 oz. grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 cup dry white wine
6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
5 Tbsp. butter, cut into pieces
1 Tbsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
Up to 10 cups simmering water (in separate pan from the pan you will cook the risotto in)

To finish the dish: 

1 lb. mushrooms (we used crimini with a few oyster and shiitake thrown in) torn or cut into 2” pieces
5 sprigs thyme
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, crushed (we used 2)
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar or lemon juice (we used vinegar)
1 oz. grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper

 

Prep:

Measure out the rice and all of the other ingredients.

Combine 1 tablespoon of salt and 10 cups of water in a medium pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium or lower to maintain a bare simmer.

Cook the mushrooms and thyme:

[Note:  bon appétit lists this as the final step, after cooking the risotto, but since it takes up to 15 minutes, there is a danger of cooling the risotto or overcooking it in an attempt to reheat.  So, we cooked this first and heated it up before serving.]

Heat the ¼ cup of oil in a large skillet over medium-high, or slightly lower (if you are using a high-btu burner).

Add the mushrooms and cook, tossing and stirring occasionally, until they soften and release some liquid (3-4 minutes).

Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking, tossing and stirring, from time to time – another 8-10 minutes.

Add the thyme, garlic, and butter and cook, tossing and stirring from time to time until garlic softens and butter is golden brown – maybe 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and add vinegar or lemon juice.  Toss and stir to coat the mushrooms and scrape up any browned bits.  Pluck out the thyme and the garlic.

Cook the risotto:

You’ve got that 10 cups of salted water barely simmering, right?

Heat the 6 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch-oven over medium.  (You’ll want to use a 6 qt or so Dutch oven – which is probably what you have.  Anything much larger won’t work – too much hot surface area for the amount of rice.)

Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring regularly, until softened – maybe 7 minutes.

Add ½ cup of tap water and cook until the water evaporates and the onion is sizzling in oil – say 5 minutes, or a bit longer if you added too much water.

Add the rice and stir well to coat it with the oil, stirring constantly, until the grains are translucent around the edges and clatter against the pot – 5 minutes or so.

Add the wine and another pinch of salt and bring to a simmer and cook – stirring from time to time – until the wine evaporates – about 3 minutes or less.

Reduce the heat to medium if you raised it to simmer, then add the hot salted water to the rice in ¾ cup increments (about a full ladle or a bit more), stirring constantly and let the liquid absorb fully before adding the next ladle.  Do this until the rice is al dente and suspended in a fluid, not too thickly creamy liquid.  This will take about 28 minutes – and each ladle of hot water will take about 3 minutes more or less to be absorbed.  If things are moving faster, reduce your heat.

The key here is gradual absorption and constant agitation – this releases the starch from the rice and creates that creamy consistency you are looking for.  You may not need all of the hot water.  The finished texture should be more liquid than solid.  You want rice grains that are tender, but not mushy.  Overcooking will create mush – so pay attention and use a bunch of spoons to taste the rice as you go.  It is perfect when it is still a bit firm in the center but not chalky.

 Remove the pot from the heat.

Add the butter and stir until it melts.

Now, gradually add the Parmigiano, stirring until the cheese is melted and the liquid is creamy, but loose – stir in more of the hot salted water if you need to.

Taste and season with more salt – you’ll probably need to add some.

Serve:

Warm some bowls and divide the risotto among them.  Top each bowlful with a few grinds of pepper and spoon the mushroom mixture over the top.  Serve with extra grated Parmigiano on the side.

Towel off, before sitting down to enjoy yourself.  If your wrist is aching, take some Aleve.

Risotto Vetre

Tomato Risotto from Mark Vetre’s book, Mastering Pasta.  Bad picture, by me, and not like the white mushroom and thyme pasta we cooked.  But this will give you some sense of how liquid the dish should be.