Around the beginning of this pandemic, my husband decided to devote his Aerogarden exclusively to basil. Because we use this herb quite often and in so many dishes, we didn’t want to be without it. Five months ago, however, we didn’t realize just how much basil our hydroponic wonder would provide.
Ever since we’ve given up driving, one sure way to get me to make a dish is that it requires no trip to the market. Another inducement is a request for it from my better half. Recently these two incentives merged and led me to prepare Lidia Bastianich’s Garlic Risotto.
A serendipitous confluence of my birthday with Amazon’s Prime Day led to the arrival of an Instant Pot at our door. This trendy pressure cooker, which has sparked a passion for the appliance, was a gift from my husband, who knew I wanted one but was reluctant to replace my serviceable, though less advanced, Cuisinart model. Well, yesterday, while unboxing my shiny new toy, I felt some nostalgia for my tried-and-true cooker that’s served me well for quite a few years. So, I thought I’d make one last dish in it before its retirement.
After making a risotto with saffron last week, I had enough leftover for another meal for two. I could have reheated it slowly, but I thought I would look for other options. Most cookbooks and internet sites suggested making a southern Italian favorite, arancini, or rice balls stuffed with mozzarella, breaded, and deep fried. Twenty years ago, this would have been my choice. But having just turned 70, I thought I would look for a more healthful alternative.
As I searched the internet, I began to see recipes for risotto pancakes, but many of these were similar to the arancini, that is stuffed with cheese and breaded, except they were flattened. Eventually, however, I came across a recipe on SeriousEats.com for a crispy rice pancake, risotto al salto, that involved less fat and neither bread nor stuffing with cheese. Although it suggested serving the cake with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, I thought my risotto already had sufficient cheese for our liking.
The recipe also provided instructions for flipping the cake with two oiled plates, which I thought to be a more involved than using a thin border-less pizza tin. But if you din’t have a similar tin, you may want to try the recipe’s dual-plate method.
I’m happy to report that the result exceeded my expectations. The pancake was perfectly crisp, thoroughly warmed though, and the rice still had a nice texture.
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups leftover risotto, such as risotto alla Milanese, fully cooled
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, for serving (I skipped the cheese.)
1. Lightly grease two flat 10- or 11-inch plates (you can use any oil for this, or even some extra butter). In a well-seasoned 10-inch carbon steel skillet or a 10-inch nonstick skillet, melt butter over high heat until foaming. Add rice and, using a spatula, pat it down to form a round pancake shape.
2. Continue cooking over high heat, patting the top and sides to form a compact, pancake-like round, and swirling to keep the pancake moving and to avoid hot-spots (it should not stick), until very well browned on on the first side (you can tell it’s ready when you see that it has browned around the edges). If the pancake comes apart as you swirl and jiggle it, simply use the spatula to press it back together.
3. Carefully slide the pancake out onto one of the prepared plates, then invert the other prepared plate on top of it. In one very quick motion, flip the plates, then lift off the top plate. Very carefully slide the pancake back into the skillet; using the spatula to patch up any spots that were damaged during the flip. Continue cooking, swirling, jiggling, and patting with the spatula, until well browned on the second side.
4. Carefully slide the pancake out onto a warmed serving plate and grate the cheese all over. Serve right away.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc
Once again, I ventured into the world of risotto and once again my performance anxiety struck. I’ve written about this affliction before on this blog a number of times and, by now, one would think I’d have overcome it. But no. One failure at making risotto years ago and visions of my guests politely chewing chalky grains of under-cooked rice keep haunting me. Out, out, damned spot!
Nevertheless, a few nights ago I faced my fears and made another risotto. It was a success; in fact, my better half admitted to scraping the pot with his finger to savor the last morsels of rice as he was cleaning up. If I had had more confidence, there would have been more pictures illustrating this post. But I think that my recent achievement with the dish has left me far more confident.
My recipe comes from a small book by famed New York City restaurateur Tony May titled Italian Cuisine. Although, like most recipes for the famed Risotto alla Milanese, it called for beef marrow and meat broth, I omitted the marrow and used chicken broth.
I heated 1 1/4 quarts of chicken broth on a burner close to my enameled cast-iron risotto pot.
To the pot I added 2 ounces of butter with a little olive oil and sauteed a cup of finely chopped yellow onion sprinkled with a little salt. Once the onions became tender, I added 12 ounces of Carnaroli rice and, over medium high heat, toasted it until the fat was absorbed. I then added 1/2 of a dry white wine and stirred until the wine had evaporated.
Next, I added a ladle of the warm broth and, still over medium high heat, stirred constantly until the rice absorbed the broth. I continued to add broth, one ladle at a time, and to stir until each ladleful was absorbed before adding the next one.
About 10 minutes into the cooking, I added to the rice a large pinch of saffron that I had dissolved in a little broth.
I continued adding broth and stirring until the rice was cooked, al dente, but not chalky, about 20 minutes. I then turned off the burner and added another ounce of butter and 6 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. I stirred the rice until the ingredients were blended thoroughly and the risotto was smooth.
Success. Delicious. Confident. Now I just have to hold on to this feeling.
Wine Pairing: Frascati
Last year, I posted my first recipe for a risotto and, in that post, discussed the performance anxiety I used to experience whenever I attempted to make one. Yet despite having conquered that fear, I haven’t made a risotto since then. I really don’t know why.
Yesterday afternoon, however, right after a brief rain shower, it finally began to feel like fall in New York City. And I thought that, after a week of meat-centric dining, a mushroom risotto would be a seasonally welcome change. A cursory cookbook search led me to an easy recipe for a wild mushroom risotto in Giada De Laurentiis’s first cookbook, Everyday Italian.
Because of the the recipe’s proportion of cultivated to dried wild mushrooms (10 ounces to 1/2 ounce respectively), I dropped the word “wild” from the title of my post. Nevertheless, that small quantity of porcini infuses the more affordable white variety with considerable flavor and and complexity.
Being a disciple of Marcella Hazan, I modified the recipe a little. First, I toasted the rice for a couple of minutes, coating it with the fat from the pan. (In fact, the website version of the recipe does the same.) Second, to enrich the finished dish and give it a more creamy texture, I mounted it with a tablespoon of unsalted butter as I added the cheese.
Mushroom Risotto with Peas Adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis Serves 4 as a main dish; 8 as a side.
5 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/2 -ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 cup unsalted butter + 1 to 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
10 ounces white mushrooms, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring the broth to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the porcini mushrooms. Cover and set aside until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the porcini mushrooms to a cutting board and chop fine. Keep the broth warm over very low heat.
Melt the 1/4 butter in a heavy large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the onions and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes.
Add the white mushrooms and the porcini. Sauté until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or so.
Stir in the rice and let it toast, stirring for a few minutes.
Add the wine; cook, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of hot broth; simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 3 minutes.
Continue to cook until the rice is just tender and the mixture is creamy, adding more broth by cupfuls and stirring often, about 28 minutes. (The rice may not absorb all of broth.)
Stir in the peas. Remove from the heat.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter (two if you’re not counting calories) and stir in with the Parmigiano Reggiano. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Here is a link to the Food Network’s recipe and video. (Note that the online version of the recipe calls for 8 cups of broth, which I find to be excessive.)
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir
Performance anxiety. It’s a terrible affliction, especially in the kitchen. I know this first hand, having experienced it for quite some time, until yesterday, when I decided to confront this fear head on.
It started about 15 years ago when on one winter’s eve, I failed at making a risotto. I had successfully prepared so many versions of this dish so many times before. It was a staple of my culinary repertoire. But on that fateful night, I just couldn’t do it; those pesky grains of rice just refused to come together and make that creamy mass of goodness. Was it hubris? Had I been over confident? All I remember now is how my guests politely smiled at my table as they strategically picked through their portions, picking out the few edible grains of rice, and waited patiently until I announced that we were ready for the next course.
To make matters worse, shortly thereafter, these same guests invited me to their home for dinner. When I asked what’s cooking, the hostess smiled demurely and said “You’ll see,” and then disappeared for about twenty minutes into the kitchen.
When we finally sat down to dinner, she appeared at the table with an oval tureen. Her eyes focused on me as she raised its lid to reveal an aromatic butternut-squash risotto. Not only was it beautiful with deeply colored chunks of squash, glowing grains of rice, it was absolutely delicious. Perfectly cooked al dente grains of creamy rice enveloped sweet roasted cubes of butternut squash. “Delicious,” I exclaimed (albeit enviously), and my friend shot me a knowing smile and said softly, with just a hint of sarcasm, “That’s how it’s done.”
After that evening, every time I wanted to prepare risotto, I thought of my failed attempt and heard my friend’s voice saying “That’s how it’s done.” I couldn’t bring myself to make one. I knew the steps, had learned the tricks. I had read so many recipes, watched so many chefs prepare their plain or fancy versions, bought so many varieties of Italian rice from traditional Arborio to Carnaroli to Vialone Nano. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I just couldn’t do it.
Then, yesterday, faced with a lot of left over chicken stock from a few nights ago, an abundant supply of dried porcini, and several packages of Italian rice in the cupboard, I thought it was time. Rather than going to my cookbook collection, I dug up a recipe from television chef Ina Garten that I had seen her prepare a while ago and always wanted to make.
I bought the few ingredients from the recipe that I didn’t have on hand—some fresh crimini mushrooms, a couple of shallots. I dug out my favorite, long-neglected enameled cast iron risotto pot, and opened a bottle of wine. I took a deep breath, a few swigs of wine, and started to prep.
I soaked the dried porcini, finely chopped the shallots, diced the pancetta, heated the stock, measured out the rice, the saffron, and grated the cheese. So far, so good. Maybe another sip of wine. Had I already finished a glass?
Onto the cooking. I melted the butter, sautéed the shallots and pancetta. The aromas encouraged me to proceed. It was time for the rice. One more sip of wine. The rice went into the pot and I coated the grains with the melted butter. They started to take on a pearly glow. A sigh of relief and another sip of wine. The rice was now ready for the stock to which I had added the soaking liquid from the porcini. The first two ladles. I was sweating now. Stirring (and sipping), I watched the pot as the rice started to absorb the stock. I added the soaked porcini and the saffron. “It’s smelling good in there,” I heard from the living room. Encouraged again, I proceeded, now standing erect and confident at the pot.
I continued adding the ladlefuls of stock, stirring, watching, and occasionally tasting for the next twenty of minutes. Finally, it was done. I took the pot off the heat, stirred in the grated Parmigiano, and tasted for seasoning. Perfect! One final, triumphant, swig of wine, and I announced: “We’re ready.” Seated at the table, after one taste, my spouse looked up at me, smiled, and said: “Now, that’s how it’s done.” My risotto mojo is back.
Wild Mushroom Risotto Adapted from Ina Garten
1 -ounce dried morel mushrooms (I used dried porcini.)
1/2 pound fresh porcini or cremini mushrooms (I opted for cremini.)
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced
1/2 cup chopped shallots (3 shallots)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (I used superfine carnaroli; I prefer its texture.)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour 2 cups boiling water over them. Set aside for 30 minutes. Scoop the mushrooms from the water with a slotted spoon, reserving the liquid. You should have 2 cups; if not, add water to make 2 cups. Drain the mushrooms and rinse once more. If some of the mushrooms are large, cut into 2 or 3 pieces. Pour the mushroom liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel, discarding the gritty solids. Set the mushrooms and the liquid aside separately.
Meanwhile, remove and discard the stems of the fresh mushrooms and rub any dirt off the caps with a damp paper towel. Don’t rinse them! Slice thickly and set aside.
In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock with the 2 cups of reserved mushroom liquid and bring to a simmer.
In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and sauté the pancetta and shallots over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Add the rehydrated and fresh mushrooms and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter.
Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of the chicken stock mixture to the rice plus the saffron, salt, and pepper. Stir and simmer over low heat until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock mixture, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry before adding more of the stock mixture. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 25 to 30 minutes total. When done, the risotto should be thick and creamy and not at all dry. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan cheese. Serve hot in bowls with extra cheese.
Here’s a link to the original recipe on the Food Network Website.
Wine Pairing: Montepulicano d’Abruzzo, Dolcetto D’Acqui