January 30th, 2012
Hot Damn! Today I pulled off one hell of a risotto (or How to Treat Your Kitchen like Your Studio)
Recently I’ve been letting my cooking skills go (mostly due to busyness combined with my girlfriend staying over and putting my cooking to shame). So slowly I’ve been picking up the pots and pans again and doing more grocery shopping.
Today was one of those days when you open the fridge and say “I should really eat this stuff before buying anything else.” So I started pulling things out of the shelf and thinking of how to combine flavors. The result was a sublime, totally unplanned Enoki and Cumquat Risotto. Wait don’t go yet!! Let me elaborate…
I had some sublets over the summer and among the things they left behind was a nice box of Arborio (thanks Alon!). (Arborio BTW is one of the stickiest of all the risottos). I like to approach risotto the way any good paella or rice/casserole dish should be approached, by grabbing disparate yet complementary items and trying to achieve balance and harmony in flavor.
So you start by looking at the rice itself. You wash it once, strain it and stare at it … At this point it is a blank canvas. So, do you want to leave it natural and light, or do you want to add body to it? I went with light. So I chopped some onions and ruled out garlic. This determined which type of wine I would use: white, about half the amount of volume as your rice.
Next the “meat” of my dish. Mushrooms perform really well with any kind of risotto, but they tend to add a lot of body to the dish and assert themselves strongly. Enokis however are like “wimpy” mushrooms. They will go whichever way you push them. So the base of my dish is not particularly assertive, but this can be a good thing because it means I can build up the flavor by subtle layering. You wash the enokis and cut the bottoms. Also de-thread them a little. This led to me to choose chicken stock over beef stock. I also made it lighter than normal. Again for a gradual subtle buildup of flavors. Next I decided to add some saffron to lace the overall aroma of the dish and add color. I like to use saffron the Persian way. When I buy it, I heat it for about 5-10 seconds to dry it (this also brings out more red in it), and then I grind it with a bit of sugar and store it in a small jar. The sugar has two effects on it: it coats the saffron and preserves it and it also allows you to lift all of it from the mortar and leave none of it behind. When you need to use it, just take out 1/8 of a teaspoon and brew it like tea in a small cup. (About the size of an espresso cup).
At this point I’m staring at the cumquats and wondering how they would perform under heat. The logic is as follows: I’m already throwing saffron and kind of “Persianizing” the dish, so why not follow that vein? After all, Persians are some of the most accomplished makers of meat and fruit stews in the planet. The citrus aroma will blend with the saffron, and add a bit of freshness and semi-sweetness to the dish. So I grabbed about 5~6 cumquats and sliced them, disposing of the seeds. So now this needs an herb. Fresh. I had a lot of parsley in the fridge so why not? This is the riskier proposition since they seem disparate, but it makes sense too. Basil, dill, or coriander are aromatic and I don’t want to drown the saffron-cumquat blend I got going. I want that to be the foil for the dish. So a wimpy herb for a wimpy mushroom! I stripped about 10-12 sprigs and chopped the leaves lightly. Now I just need to decide on a cheese…
Risottos tend to look to sharp cheeses to complement the wine they’re cooking the rice in and to add like an anchor to the dish. No matter which way your palate goes to when tasting sovoring it, your palate always has that sharpness to refer back to. I happen to have both kefalograviera and pecorino romano on my freezer, but I decided to go with goat feta. I wasn’t done layering, and the bulk and saltiness of the feta would make the dish more substantial. I chopped a generous slice. And now to the stove!
I heated my casserole. And threw a dash of olive oil with some butter. You can also go with either one, if you prefer. I then fried the onion at low heat for about 8~10 minutes. I wanted them to sweeten a bit in the oil (more layering). I then added the enokis and 6-8 nafplio olives I also needed to do something with. The olives would make up for the lack of sharpness of the feta. After a minute or two I added the strained rice. I didn’t fry it because I did not wish to wilt the enokis. They are to delicate. I followed with the saffron water, the wine, the chicken stock, and a dash of salt. Cover and boil, and then lower the heat. DO NOT throw the cumquats in yet!! You want them to lace the rice grains not to make a melange of flavors. They will also loose some of their color and bite. Now you will boil down the stock by uncovering, stiring and covering again, as often as necessary. The ratio should be about 1 part rice 4~5 parts liquid. When the liquid is all but absorbed in the rice stir in the cumquats. You should have a thick porridge-like texture at this point. Now cover and make sure you are at the lowest heat possible. Keep turning over and stirring every 5~7 minutes until the rice is tender and no more watery residue stays on top of the grains. You are almost done now. When the rice is ready add the parsley and crumble the feta in. Mix it in and turn of the heat. Cover and let it settle for about 5~10 minutes while you prepare your table.
Serve and eat! 😛