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My First Risotto


adrober
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PROLOGUE: RISOTTO SHAME

Several weeks ago, I ran into my favorite professor from college at the gym. For privacy's sake, we will refer to him as RR.

"RR!" I said.

"Hey, adrober!" he said.

We got to talking. One of our shared interests is food. I told him that I've been cooking more and more and that I'm getting quite good at it.

"Excellent," he said, nodding his head enthusiastically. Then, a bit quieter, he asked: "Have you made risotto yet?"

I turned several shades of pink and regretfully shook my head "no."

Things grew quiet.

"Ummm..." RR stammered. "Well, I better go work my pecs."

Tonight was not particularly ideal for risotto making. I needed to finish a short story for a short story contest that I'm entering. Plus, I have a pretty unpleasant cold, that keeps me in a constant state of sniffling. And my usual culinary guinea pig (having most recently consumed my disturbingly undercooked chicken) and roommate, Lauren, was out (perhaps intentionally) at a movie. My only audience was, in fact, Lolita my hard-to-please cat.

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No matter. As some great chef probably said somewhere: "Risotto trumps all!"

PART ONE: INGREDIENTS

So first I cracked open my "Chez Panisse Cooking" book. Having bought it several months ago, this was (sadly?) the first recipe I've attempted from within its pages.

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Next, I determined which ingredients I needed. I already had a heap of unsalted butter in the fridge, a huge box of kosher salt and several pepper balls left in my pepper grinder. I had 2 mini-bottles of dry white wine... well, I'm not actually sure if it was dry, but it was white and already purchased (Sutter Home, 2000, according to my sommelier). And I had 2 quarts of chicken broth in boxes that were eerily reminiscent of the box drinks I used to bring to school as a youngster.

Alas, still in need of 4 to 6 cups of wild mushrooms, 2 shallots, Arborio rice, pancetta, parsley and thyme, I headed down the hill to my local Whole Foods. (It's literally in my backyard). I ran through the store, scooping everything up like those guys on Supermarket Sweep. At the register, I impulsively bought a copy of Bon Apetit, to add to the stack of Food Magazines that I read once and never read again. The check-out woman eyed my Arborio rice suspciously. "What is this?" she asked. "It's for Risotto," I answered. "Ah," she said, still staring at it. "Umm, let's go here," I said to her in my head. She studied the rice several seconds more (did she suspect sinister Arborio activity?) and placed the rice in the bag. Grand total? $22.46. But without the magazine, it would have been like $4.

PART TWO: ALL MY MISE ARE EN PLACE

Call me old-fashioned (or French) but I like to have everything ready before I go. And, in the case of a rather intimidating dish like risotto, it seemed doubly-wise.

So: I diced the two shallots (my eyes, which are normally shallot-immune, began gushing forth huge quanities of water, making dicing quite difficult); I diced my pancetta (probably not small enough), I measured out my wine, and chopped the parsley and thyme. Here's what everything looked like when I was done:

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PART THREE: SCREW THESE TITLES, THEY'RE UNNECESSARY

Anyway, so then I simply followed Alice Waters and Paul Bertolli's finicky but helpful directions.

1) I sauteed the mushrooms for 15 minutes:

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2) I set them aside.

3) I melted butter in my large silver pot. I added the shallots:

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They were supposed to "soften" for two minutes but since they were browning, I quickly jumped to step 4.

4) And I added the pancetta and the rice.

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5) The sizzle was loud and highly enjoyable. I stirred it around for three minutes. Then, in a moment of true auditory pleasure

6) I added the wine!

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7) I waited for the rice to suck that up and, when it did, I began adding the chicken broth.

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This part was the most terrifying. Not necessarily because it was difficult, but because this seemed to be the most "built-up" of the steps, the one where Risotto either triumphs or joins a support group. I added the broth cautiously, always stirring, and always rereading the instructions in the book that cautioned not to let the broth go higher than the level of the rice.

This continued for 15 minutes and was rather soothing. Perhaps spas and health clubs should add risotto-stirring to their day long therapeutic beauty treatments?

8) So then, after the 15 minutes, I turned up the heat and stirred in the mushrooms.

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Ah, now this was really the do-or-die moment. Alice and Paul are all like: "You better adjust your seasonings here! And add the right amount of broth! And taste it to make sure it's not too chewy or too tender!" Yikes. And, for the record, tasting scalding hot risotto rice does nothing but numb your tongue and the roof of your mouth.

In any case, after five minutes, all seemed copacetic. I stirred in the butter and the herbs:

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PART FOUR: SAY WHA?

Ok, so let me get this straight. Stir rice for 15 minutes and you have risotto?

My goodness, look what I had before me:

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I carried it over to the TV table and sat down with Lolita, contemplating.

She gave me a look that said: "Well, go on, eat it!"

So I scooped up a spoonful. Steam billowed off it and I carried it slowly to my mouth. First taste impression: Mmmmm. It was such a wonderful, earthy combination of flavors. Standing out the most? The thyme, pancetta and wine. Their combination really made this taste like nothing I'd ever tasted. The whole thing was a terrific fusion of flavor and texture and justified all the risotto posturing of my favorite professor, RR.

When I finished the bowl I looked around me, taking in the world, and sighing. That non-existent chef whose quote I made up before really was right. Risotto DOES trump all.

THE END ?!?

The Amateur Gourmet

www.amateurgourmet.com

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To this day, I don't understand why risotto scares the shit out of people. It's incredibly easy to make, doesn't demand as much attention as many claim, and even a mediocre result can be an incredibly good meal. I'm elated you took the plunge, adrober. Now you can venture onward in the world of risotto!

Oh, you also might want to check out Craig Camp's eGCI lesson on risotto: Click here!!!

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Great post, adrober! Congratulations on your brave forray into the word of risotto making. It's good, isn't it? If you have any of Marcella Hazan's books, her risotto recipes are tops. (Not that Alice's aren't wonderful.)

My favorite is artichoke risotto. Also very good: radicchio risotto, red wine risotto, and milanese, with saffron. MMMM :smile:

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I too must mention Craig's wonderful essay. If anyone reading this hasn't read that, please click the link.

How about trying carnaroli, Adam?

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Welcome to the club. Oh the places you will go.

Suggestion for trying out risotto recipes. When I figured out how easy and fun it was to make I did a risotto tasting party. I picked out four recipes where the ingredients other than the risotto were added at the end, whipped up a big plain batch and then doctored away. It was a great way to figure out which versions to try again and my roommates did not make me take out the trash for a whole month!

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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Welcome to the club. Oh the places you will go.

Suggestion for trying out risotto recipes. When I figured out how easy and fun it was to make I did a risotto tasting party. I picked out four recipes where the ingredients other than the risotto were added at the end, whipped up a big plain batch and then doctored away. It was a great way to figure out which versions to try again and my roommates did not make me take out the trash for a whole month!

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. . .

Risotto, light of my kitchen, fire of my belly.

Nice job on the recipe and the pictures. Looks good. Risotto isn't hard, it's just a little time consuming. And you're right, it is somewhat zen-like in its meditative effect. Enjoyed it vicariously.

Chad

Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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Hey Adam:

Great post, great pictures, great pussycat. Risotto is one of the Great Good Things, and once I discovered (and yes those recipes do make you cower!) that I didn't actually have to stir totally otally continuously---like check in every few minutes!---I agree with Varmint: I don't know why risotto scares the shit out of people. You're in the kitchen anyway, right? How hard is it to lean over that pan and give it a stir---a lick and a promise.

Then there's Barbara Kafka's no-stir microwave version from her underrated classic "Microwave Gourmet." I can imagine caro Craig clutching his heart and breaking into operatic rage and grief, but you know what? It ain't bad.

However, like you, and doubtless Craig, I think that stirring can be therapeutic.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Hey Adam:

Great post, great pictures, great pussycat. Risotto is one of the Great Good Things, and once I discovered (and yes those recipes do make you cower!) that I didn't actually have to stir totally otally continuously---like check in every few minutes!---I agree with Varmint: I don't know why risotto scares the shit out of people. You're in the kitchen anyway, right? How hard is it to lean over that pan and give it a stir---a lick and a promise.

Then there's Barbara Kafka's no-stir microwave version from her underrated classic "Microwave Gourmet." I can imagine caro Craig clutching his heart and breaking into operatic rage and grief, but you know what? It ain't bad.

However, like you, and doubtless Craig, I think that stirring can be therapeutic.

Not only that, but risotto is the PERFECT dish to serve at a dinner party, where you get the guest who asks "Can I help" involved. Let her stir and stir and stir. Then, when everyone is oohing and ahing at the dinner table, credit that most excellent guest who stirred for you.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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adrober... wonderful post. I haven't made rissoto in a coon's age. I will get on it. The pictures got me.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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We make it all the time. It makes a nice weeknight dinner, assuming you have the energy to stand up for a half-hour before dinner. We usually just hang out in the kitchen, talking and taking turns stirring, while drinking a glass of wine. I always have Marcella Hazen's Basic Meat Broth on hand in the freezer-this stock makes the BEST risotto (and pretty good soup and pan sauces as well.)

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Adam, like everyone else, I enjoyed your account. Please continue to share with us your explorations in the kitchen.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Adam, I just wanted to add that I too enjoyed your piece. I find risotto (and polenta, which also seems to scare people) among the most soothing of meals to make. There's an easy rhythm to it that I find (contrary to many people's thinking) a nice accompaniment to conversation with guests, so long as you don't mind having your guests in the kitchen!

Fat Guy had a good piece a few years ago with his buddy Chef Matt about making risotto. I tried to locate a link, but fat-guy.com is currently undergoing reconstruction. This, by the way, is not Fat Guy's site.

Steven, do you feel like posting a link to your article? If I recall correctly, it had step-by-steps for a couple different risottos and also gave restaurant-style tips for how to make risotto ahead of time-- slightly undercooked-- and then finish it in five minutes for guests.

Edited by SethG (log)

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Adam, I am really enjoying your writing style and sense of humor. Keep posting, and go for making your own stock next...it will make a difference in your risotto.

Definitely try it with a homemade stock. The difference is noticeable. To elevate it even more, try grating some Parmigiano-Reggiano at the end. And for the ultimate...a little drizzle of truffle oil. :rolleyes:

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In addition to homemade stock which is probably the sole indispensible ingredient in just about any kitchen, you should try using a better grade of wine. I think someone said someplace that the wine you use to make stock, sauces and things like risotto should be at least as good an item as something that you would be glad to serve at a dinner party.

Ok, I know I mangled that sentence. But you know what I mean.

Soba

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In addition to homemade stock which is probably the sole indispensible ingredient in just about any kitchen, you should try using a better grade of wine. I think someone said someplace that the wine you use to make stock, sauces and things like risotto should be at least as good an item as something that you would be glad to serve at a dinner party.

Ok, I know I mangled that sentence. But you know what I mean.

Soba

I very rarely drink white wine. A sip gives me an instant headache. Since I'm often cooking with white wine for my family only, what do I do with the rest of the bottle? Given that I am almost always using it only for cooking purposes, can I freeze it? How long does an opened bottle last in the fridge?

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Yes, you can freeze wine. I know people who maintain this is the best way to keep part bottles of wine. Not my practice, but it sounds like a sensible thing to do if you cook with it occasionally.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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You can freeze it into ice cubes. You can also simmer it with some mirepoix and maybe some stock until reduced and freeze that into ice cubes; it might not be quite as versatile, but it's a very handy product to have on hand. In fact, I need to make some.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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I very rarely drink white wine. A sip gives me an instant headache. Since I'm often cooking with white wine for my family only, what do I do with the rest of the bottle? Given that I am almost always using it only for cooking purposes, can I freeze it? How long does an opened bottle last in the fridge?

In your case, Julia Child recommends using vermouth. I'm not sure how long it is supposed to last; I probably keep mine way too long.

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Hey Adam:

Great post, great pictures, great pussycat. Risotto is one of the Great Good Things, and once I discovered (and yes those recipes do make you cower!) that I didn't actually have to stir totally otally continuously---like check in every few minutes!---I agree with Varmint: I don't know why risotto scares the shit out of people. You're in the kitchen anyway, right? How hard is it to lean over that pan and give it a stir---a lick and a promise.

Then there's Barbara Kafka's no-stir microwave version from her underrated classic "Microwave Gourmet." I can imagine caro Craig clutching his heart and breaking into operatic rage and grief, but you know what? It ain't bad.

However, like you, and doubtless Craig, I think that stirring can be therapeutic.

maggie - If you listen carefully you should be able to hear a painful scream. I am sure it carried the 4,000 miles and should be getting there just about now. :wink:

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