Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rebecca's Risotto

Nature and nurture are intricately woven to produce the complex array of the phenotypic manifestations of our genotypic characteristics, on the microcosmic and the macrocosmic strata. As much as I sometimes wish culinary skills were a simple matter of Mendelian inheritance laws (with myself on the lucky side of the Punnett square, naturally), the truth is these skills are cultivated with an upbringing founded on food appreciation, family dinners, and good old fashioned trial and error. My mother and my older sister Elizabeth are both fabulous cooks, however, for each, this was not always the case; their cooking was practiced and honed, the craft developed, as opposed to immediately accessible. Since graduating and being out on my own, I, too, have made an effort to practice in the kitchen, but have found that cooking and eating alone are occasionally insurmountable barriers to epicurean explorations. Dining, and the preparation that precedes it, is an inherently social activity for me, and though I enjoy a delicious meal, with a delicious wine, I always feel something is missing without either family or friends to join me.

Although this sentiment often leads to me just snacking on some carrots and hummus, or some cereal, after hours in my mock-cubicle in the office, I have been making a general concerted effort to eat well, so I feel I live well. I have been missing the farmer's market and its local wonders, but despite this absence, I am attempting to keep warm in the bitter cold weather with some hearty recipes. Pretty much, if it involves copious amounts of cheese, then I am pleasantly satisfied, so some risotto seemed like a natural decision. I would love to take credit for this risotto recipe, because it is pretty simple and amazingly delectable, but it belongs to my best friend, Rebecca, the English graduate student at Brown (great cook and a smart cookie, faceted and dynamic dame).

1/4 of a large white or yellow onion (about 1/2 cup or so when finely diced)
1 tablespoon or so (I use some more) butter
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup white wine (Rebecca proposed Sauvignon Blanc, I used a Riesling)
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
salt, pepper, and other seasonings, to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup cheese, to taste, or 1/4 cup heavy cream
other fun surprises
When I decided to prepare this last Sunday evening, I used pear and a basic soft goat cheese; some other possible ingredient combinations include: roasted squash and manchego; mushroom; strawberries and goat cheese; sun dried tomato and ricotta; parmesan, squash, and sausage. Honestly, just depends on the season and produce availability. According to Rebecca, avoid garlic, at all costs; it overpowers the rice and just ruins everything.

First, I sauteed my pears in some butter and some cinnamon, mostly to soften the pears, then set these off to the side for later. I tried to slice the pear in bite chunks, so that it would stay hearty when stirred in the rice, but would be chew manageable.

Here is my white onion, finely diced; this gets thrown into the pot first, with the butter, and is allowed to soften up a bit and create a nice juicy base. I then added some salt and pepper to season the onion-butter base a bit.

Rebecca advised plenty of both white wine and chicken stock; she explained that the primary risotto folly is not enough liquid.

After the diced onion is sufficiently soft, add the arborio rice; I kept the pot on a medium to high flame, though I have a gas stove that is rather stubborn and mostly out of control, so maintaining medium heat can be difficult for me. It is generally all or nothing with that stove top, so I have learned to dance about around that.

When the rice becomes translucent, which will take about two minutes add the white wine, being sure to stir the rice-onion mixture constantly.

After some stirring, add the chicken stock, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly before, during, and following each addition. The risotto should cook, with plenty of vigorous stirring and chicken stock additions, until the rice is soft and is still in separate grains, loose enough to be able to spread on a plate. For a cup of rice, this process will take approximately twenty or thirty minutes. Your biceps and the hateful underarm flap, I am sure, will thank you kindly and vehemently; spring and sleeveless are just around the corner. On second thought, though, consuming cheese-filled risotto may counteract any potential calorie-burning benefits of the preparation. Fear not, that corner is maybe only vaguely in sight; eat up and enjoy.

After adding all the chicken stock, again about three to four cups, stir in whatever ingredients you wish; above, I added the cinnamon pear bites. Stir for about two minutes, to incorporate the flavors.

Finally, stir in the desired amount of cheese or cream, making sure well incorporated. Again, I used a soft goat cheese with my cinnamon pear, a classic pairing. Brilliant pun.

My first foray with solo risotto making was a success; the perfect tasty touch to a lazy Sunday evening. I will definitely be returning to this recipe, really just a guide for proportions, and probably will be working in some sausage next time around.

On another, more musical and not even tangential note, I have recently been re-discovering the Cocteau Twins; amazing decision on my part, and a haunting break from my typical schedule of early big band jazz and 1960s girl pop (though, cannot go wrong with those genres, at all, obviously, thus their heavy rotation in the soundtrack of my life). Pandora told me today that there is a Cocteau Twins holiday station; naturally, I find this intriguing. Until next Christmas, I suppose.

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