Sunday, May 29, 2011

Today's Risotto

Two in a row!  Two weeks of pilgrimage downtown to the Portland Farmer's Market, where the college that wouldn't give me enough transfer student financial aid (bastards) plays host to the best natural bounty from all over the state.  This time I was lucky enough to have company, as my friend Kristine came along.  She's a great adventurous cook (and my canning buddy), so I'm always feeling braver when she's around.  Alongside some of my typical favorites like farm-fresh eggs, Jersey cow cream, Tails & Trotters bacon and more irresistible strawberries, she explained to me the wonders of garlic spears.  Like asparagus, she explained, but with a spicy garlic kick.  Garlic and asparagus fused into one super-spear!?  Couldn't say no to that one!  I've never seen these curly, elegant tendrils at any grocery store, but maybe I'm wrong and they're hiding next to the eggplant.  I never look close over there.  I do know they are common at many farmer's markets sporting any slightly exotic produce (in Portland, the Beaverton, Lake Oswego and Hollywood markets would all be guaranteed candidates).  What is even less common are those gorgeous blossoms next to Maxie-Pie, Brussels Sprouts Raab.  As the name suggests, they are similar to broccoli raab, but from the less-popular veggie.  I'd read about their existence in the latest Portland Monthly, and as a broccoli raab fanatic I had to give them a try.

I love recipes that allow you to kind of just throw whatever you want into them, depending on your fridge and the season.  Frittatas are a good example.  So are many soups, and even pasta dishes.  Best case in point:  risotto.  The basic ingredients are classic and simple, non-perishable items I always have in the pantry:  arborio rice (buy it in bulk from WinCo and save tons, as I've seen little bags at Safeway upwards of $8), white wine (two-buck chuck Chardonnay will do just fine), chicken stock, plus garlic and onions.  Otherwise, it's pretty much an open canvas.  You'll want some cheese, and traditional recipes use Parmigiano Reggiano.  True, you can never go wrong with that.  But what about fresh, tangy chevre?  Creamy, buttery Ossau-Iraty?  Raw milk clothbound cheddar from Fiscalini Farms?  The (Italian) King of Cheeses shouldn't have all the fun.

Just don't bring up that King of Cheese argument with the British.  They are freaking nuts about their Stilton. 

I digress, again.  Looking at my basket, I was inspired to cook up a Bacon Risotto with Garlic Spears and Brussels Sprouts Raab.  Before I spent all that time stirring in front of the stove, I wanted to cook and test the new vegetables out.  I started with the raab, chopping off the thicker end stems and cutting the remaining stocks into 1" spears.  Those were simply tossed into the great All-Clad super-deep saute pan with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper and cooked on medium-ish heat until they began to soften and the pieces I picked out of the pan and popped into my mouth were tender and flavorful.  They had a kind of grassy, fibrous taste of broccoli followed quickly by a very floral, musky aftertaste.  These are deep yet delicate, something that should be eaten slowly and considered.  With that said, guess who didn't like his taste test!  That's right, my picky pants husband.  So, to make a compromised risotto, I left these to myself as a side dish.  However, if you're making risotto on your own and aren't afraid of a wonderous palette adventure I heartily encourage you to put them in.  I mean, really.  If Naomi Pomeroy decided she needed a weekend off and gave me the reins at BEAST, they'd show up right there in your third course.

I prepared the garlic spears essentially the same way, which is the same way I would also treat asparagus.  They are so unapologetically green!  I love it.  And yes, they do taste like garlicky asparagus, so they were given  the clearance to show up in the entree round. 

Just to make sure I had everything ready to just add in at the very end of cooking, I also broke out the Tails & Trotters bacon and cooked as they recommended, by starting out on a mellow medium and then cranking up to medium-high toward the end of cooking.  I've never been all that great with cooking bacon (I like it crispy, so I put it on HIGH and then get distracted by a butterfly or whatever and leave the pan behind, only to come back to burnt bacon which I convince Matt is what I'd intended).  This method has definitely been working out better for me. 

Look how beautiful that is.  I just wanna dress it up and wear it around like Lady Gaga. 

Tails & Trotters bacon is great, but I'm also digging Olympic Provisions... hmm.  More taste tests are needed.  I'll schedule a re-trial for next Saturday.

Risotto has a general reputation as tricky, but that's quite overblown.  With a good recipe to use as a base--mine comes from my favorite cookbook, Pure Flavor, you won't fail if you follow instructions.  It's not a walk-away recipe; you definitely want to keep stirring and watching.  Its versatility makes it a recipe you should definitely invest a couple tries into mastering.  Tasting is also an essential part, and how can you not love that opportunity? 

Here is my risotto recipe from yesterday, representing this week at the market.  Next week will probably change, and your market will likely be much different than mine.  But isn't that the most fantastic part about the whole thing?  Make it your own moment and place in time, and homogeneity be damned!

Late May Risotto in Portland (adapted from Kurt Beecher Dammeier's Pure Flavor)
6 cups (1 box) of chicken stock
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup shredded Pecorino Romano
1 tbsp minced Italian parsley
1 cup garlic spears, sauteed and cut into 1" strips
5 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat.  Reduce the heat to as low as your stove will go to keep warm before use.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and salt and saute for 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute another 5 minutes until onion is softened.  Be sure to stir frequently and watch to ensure the garlic doesn't burn.

Add the rice to the skillet and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently to coat the rice with oil.  Add the white wine and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the wine is almost absorbed.  Ladle 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the hot stock over the rice.  Stir frequently until all of the liquid is absorbed and your stirring spoon leaves a trail showing where it ran across the bottom of the pot.  Ladle in another 1 1/2 cups of liquid and stir until absorbed.  Continue adding stock until the rice grains are al dente, about 30 minutes total. 

Stir in cheese, parsley, bacon and garlic spears.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

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