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Oh No! Risotto!

By: Jon Gatewood

    There are many things that people tend to be afraid of making. Grand Marnier Soufflé with Chocolate Sauce, Sautéed Escargot with a Brandied Herb Butter, Saffron Risotto with Fresh Maine Crab Meat and Toasted Pine Nuts, Foie Gras Terrine with Lemon Thyme Brioche and an Apple Marsala Compote for instance.

    These are but a few of the culinary dreams and nightmares that haunt American home cooks. Not to mention quite a few professional "Chefs". Most don't realize that with a few simple rules or methods these and many more dishes can be accomplished with fineness and flair.

    Lets start with Risotto. Oh no! Risotto?! "Stir constantly in a counter clockwise direction with a wooden spoon in your left hand! Adding fortified stock one ounce at a time, for thirty five minutes until the dish is completed!", um, no. Not gonna do it, not gonna do it.

    True, you cannot rush risotto. It takes time but you can do other things whilst it cooks. Check out the basics.


   2 1/2  cups          arborio rice
   2      tablespoons   olive oil
     1/4  cup           shallot -- minced
   2      tablespoons   garlic -- minced
   1      each          bay leaf
   1      cup           white wine
   2      quarts        water -- hot
     1/4  cup           butter
     1/4  cup           parmesan cheese
          to taste      salt and pepper

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat saute shallots, garlic, and bay leaf with olive oil until translucent.
Add rice and stir until hot to the touch.  About 3 minutes.
Deglaze with wine and reduce slightly.
Add 1 1/2 quarts of hot water and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
* Stirring becomes more important as the liquid is absorbed toward the end,  you don't want it to stick to the bottom.
Check doneness once liquid is mostly absorbed.
Add more water if needed.
When rice is done, that's a touch past al dente, add butter and cheese.
Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Risotto should creamy but not gummy.
Try not to over cook.

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    Now, I want you to think of risotto as a method as well as a dish. It can be finished in a myriad of ways. Want to get funky? Dissolve a pinch or two of saffron in the wine before adding it. This will result in a fantastic color not to mention a great flavor. More? Top that with some toasted nuts. Perhaps pine nuts or almonds. Tweak it further with that good old Maine crab meat or maybe some lobster medallions.

    Pumpkin Risotto! Lose the garlic and take a 16 ounce can of prepared pumpkin puree. Add it to the mix about half way through the process. Season with some pumpkin pie spice and finish with gruyere cheese instead of parmesan. Top it off with toasted pepitas (green pumpkin seeds).

    Sauté two cups of your favorite mushrooms with the onions and garlic at the beginning and you have a fantastic Mushroom Risotto. Did I hear truffle oil at the end? Yes!

    Replace three or four cups of stock with crushed or stewed tomatoes. Fresh mozzarella and oregano or basil to round it out. Throw another curve with some little neck clams or calamari at the last moment.

    More? OK! Asparagus and Lemon Risotto. Sauté 1 cup of asparagus cut into 1/4 inch pieces with the other ingredients. Toward the end throw in the zest and juice of a couple of lemons. Finish with a few tablespoons of olive oil instead of butter and some brie cheese, sans rind, melting on top. I can hardly contain myself!

    As you can see the possibilities are endless. All stemming from one basic recipe / method. Try it I think youll like it. And if you ever get bored switch the arborio out for basmati, or wild rice, or lentils, or split peas, or.......

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