Ahhh, Risotto. Who doesn’t love a rich, creamy risotto? Well, who doesn’t love a rich, creamy risotto outside of the one who’s cooking it? I think most agree that standing at the stove for 20 some odd minutes, ladling simmering stock into sauteed rice, and stirring until the rice absorbs it, then adding more, repetitively, could be called tedious. It’s like lather, rinse repeat until your head feels numb.
Let me make this clear, I’m not bashing risotto; I love it. I just love when someone else cooks it for me. It was fun the first 50 times I made it, but now it’s become somewhat of a “Ohhh..I really feel like risotto tonight, but the stock, the ladling, the stirring, my aching arms and feet!” dilemma. However, you have to do this if you want a perfectly silken, creamy risotto. All that stirring releases the lovely starch in the arborio rice (or whatever rice the risotto experts that be decide is better for risotto, but I’ll get to that later), resulting in the perfect risotto.
You can add cream and/or butter at the end to achieve that (sort of a cheat), but if done properly, you won’t need either, although it”s not like it’s a bad thing outside of adding to your waistline. Butter and cream are two of the most beautiful words in the culinary/pastry world, in my opinion, of course.
The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.
I had a lot of fun with this challenge; I went off the beaten path, then stepped back on it using the challenge recipe, then a few tiptoes off again. The first vision I had was some kind of parfait layered with a sweet risotto; basically a rice pudding made with arborio rice, accompanied by the tedious ladling of simmering milk in lieu of savory stock. As I was surfing around, I came across a sweet risotto recipe at Food & Wine in which you add flour, eggs and baking powder to make risotto fritters! I made a few changes to the recipe with several additions and a bit more sugar. This is a unique way to use risotto, since many take the arancini aka rice ball route. Nothing like a light, crispy fritter, similar to a zeppole, but filled with sweet, creamy rice. I could eat these once day..until I got sick of them.
My verrines were also a success. Not only did they turn out beautiful, albeit the mango gelee spilling out a few times while setting on an angle, but the taste and texture of this cup of surprise with every bite, is a flavor rave. When you first stick your spoon in, breaking through the crunchy pistachios, shaved white chocolate, and sweet mango cubes, it slides into creamy white chocolate risotto with crunchy, chopped pistachios, the tip of your spoon picking up the smooth mango gelee peppered with sweet mango cubes, beneath it. Each spoonful is an absolute delight!
After basking in luscious dessert risottos, I decided I really needed to make a nice, savory one using the master recipe given to us, almost verbatim. We were required to make our own stock from scratch, but I already had several quarts of homemade beef, chicken and roasted vegetable stock on hand. I always have stock in the freezer; it’s almost become a must for me. I usually spend one week in the Fall making stock to freeze, and then repeat later on if necessary. If there’s no homemade stock in my freezer, I sort of feel naked.
I decided to keep it simple with a twist, even though while perusing through the Daring Cooks completed challenge forum I nearly drowned in drool after seeing all the beautiful, creamy, and sometimes very unique twists on savory risotto (You can check them out by clicking on the links to each Daring Cook’s blog, HERE). The bell peppers at the supermarket were huge, vibrant, and calling to me. I bought one of each color and then stood there stumped. I could do a vegetarian risotto, maybe roasted tomato with these gorgeous peppers?
After mulling over that temporary decision, I stopped at an Italian market to pick up some fresh mozzarella. Walking toward the cheese section, I was stopped in my tracks by a hunky looking log of sopressata that smelled wonderful. After the nice Italian mom and pop force fed (Ha..more like I kept begging for more) me some of this beautiful dried sausage/salami, or whichever you want to call it, the bells went off. A sausage and pepper risotto with a twist; the twist being the sopressata. I was set, well, set after I threw in a couple handfuls of sweet petit peas, just because I happened to have them on hand.
Now to my risotto rice beef. I always use Arborio. Arborio used to be (at least it seemed that way) THE rice you used for risotto. It had the monopoly on risotto! Then someone told me that Vialone Nano is even better, so I start using that. Then someone else told me that Carnaroli rice is really the best rice for risotto, so I start using that. OK, enough, I’m going back to Arborio because Arborio is my old friend, and it’s easier to find in the supermarket.
I fully expect a new “better for risotto” rice to pop up any day now, but I’m not budging!
This risotto sat out for an hour before I could take a photo (I fell asleep!). It was much creamier before it sat out that long, but I didn’t feel like dumping it back into the pan and ladling again for one photo. So, be it.
Well, that’s the end of my fun-filled, month long, love affair with risotto. I just may call him again, but only if it’s OK with someone else ladling and stirring up its starchy goodness. With that said, I loved this challenge because it was so delicious, but it may be a few months before I tackle risotto again, says my aching arms. For the Master risotto recipe and tips, click HERE.
UPDATE: I’ve received several inquiries as to how I got the cool design in my verrines. It’s really simple. Divide an even amount of gelee, about 1/3-1/2 cup in each of 4 glasses, then tilt each glass about 45 degrees in an egg carton and let set in the fridge. When set, fill the empty space next to the gelee with the sweet risotto, even with the top of the gelee. Pour another 1/3 – 1/2 cup of gelee and tilt again in the egg carton, in the opposite direction of the first layer of gelee, letting it set. Take care to not let too much of the sweet risotto seep into the new gelee like mine did (notice the second layer of gelee is a little darker?). When set, fill the rest of the glass with the sweet risotto and top with remaining gelee (just pour this layer over the top and let it set upright) to seal everything in. That’s it!
Risotto – Three Ways
Creamy, Sweet Risotto with White Chocolate and Pistachios
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 split vanilla bean
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine or water
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cinnamon
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 oz white chocolate, chopped and melted
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest (optional)
1/2 cup roughly chopped pistachios
Special Equipment for Verrines – 4 6-8 oz clear glasses and 1 empty egg carton
DIRECTIONS FOR RISOTTO:
1.Melt the butter in a heavy, medium saucepan. Add the rice and stir over moderate heat until coated with the butter. Place the vanilla bean in a pot with the milk and bring to a simmer.
2. Add the white wine or water to the rice and cook, stirring, until the white wine or water is completely absorbed. Add the nutmeg, cinnamon and 1/2 cup of the vanilla milk and cook, stirring constantly, until the milk is completely absorbed. Continue adding milk, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until it is absorbed before adding more. Cook until the risotto is creamy and porridge-like and the grains of rice are just tender.
3. Stir in the melted white chocolate, sugar, vanilla and optional orange zest. Chill until ready to fill verrines or chill and serve as is.
Mango Gelee for Verrines – makes about 4 verrines
1 3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-oz envelope)
1/4 cup water
2 cups mango nectar or puree
1 medium mango, peeled and cubed, reserving some for topping
1. Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small saucepan and let stand 1 minute to soften. Cook over low heat, stirring, until gelatin is dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 1 tablespoon mango nectar at a time until gelatin mixture is cool, then whisk in remaining nectar. Stir in cubed mango.
2. Transfer to a metal bowl and set bowl into a larger bowl half-filled with ice and cold water. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until gelée is consistency of raw egg white, 15 to 25 minutes.
1. Put egg carton in a shallow baking pan and arrange glasses in carton, then tilt glasses to a 45-degree angle. Divide gelee among glasses. Carefully transfer pan with glasses to refrigerator and chill until gelée is set, at least 1 hour.
2. Spoon white chocolate-pistachio risotto into glasses along side the set gelee. Top with any leftover gelee, cubed mango, chopped white chocolate and chopped pistachios.
Sweet Vanilla Bean Risotto Fritters aka Rice Pudding Fritters
1 recipe Creamy, Sweet Risotto above, minus the melted white chocolate and pistachios
1 plump vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
small pinch of table salt
2 large egg whites
Peanut oil, for frying
1. Make the Risotto above, splitting and scraping the vanilla bean into the milk and placing the scraped pods in with the vanilla beans (Be careful not to get any of the pod into the risotto as you add the milk in increments and stir) Omit the melted white chocolate, pistachios. When all the milk is absorbed and the rice slightly al dente, transfer to a bowl and let cool.
2. Stir in the beaten egg, then stir in the flour and baking powder.
3. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Stir half of the beaten egg whites into the risotto, then fold in the rest.
4. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat 2 inches of peanut oil to 350 F. Position a wire rack on a baking sheet and cover the rack with paper towels. Scoop rounded tablespoons of the rice into the hot oil without crowding and fry until golden brown all over, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to the rack to drain. Repeat to make the remaining fritters. Sprinkle the fritters with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm, with the strawberry compote and warm chocolate sauce or ganache.
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups quartered strawberries (halved if small), divided
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon orange liqueur and/or orange zest (optional)
1. Heat 1 cup quartered strawberries, sugar and water in medium saucepan over medium-high heat then bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, then remove from heat. .Give it a whirl in the food processor, blender or break it down with a stick blender until smooth.
2. Stir in orange liqueur and/or zest, if using and let cool. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup quartered strawberries. Chill or serve at room temperature.