Risotto, my love

I might need to add one more point to my last post:  I cook because, well, it’s the most likely way to achieve nirvana.  Or mushroom risotto.  Because, believe you me, they are one and the same.

Once upon a time, I was intimidated by risotto.  What, with the once-hard-to-find grain, the constant stirring, the how-exactly-does-rice-become-creamy? and just WHY do I have to keep the liquid warm before it even hits the pan? I was all afluster (sure, it’s a word!), and I was prepared to close the book on homemade risotto and be content to consider it restaurant-only fare.

And then one day, a prince rode his white horse into my kitchen and saved the day my dear brother came to our house for the weekend and we set to work planning dinner.  At our house, if it’s a Saturday and there’s less than a foot of snow on the ground, “dinner” means The Husband is grilling steak.  The rest of the menu planning might have gone something like this:

Me: “I’m tired of roasted or grilled potatoes — what else goes well with steak?”

Brother: “Grilled veggies? Risotto? Mushrooms?”

At the time, it was late Fall, not a lot fresh veggies were busting out of the crisper drawer, and it was looking to me like potatoes were the likeliest of candidates and the mushrooms, well, they’d be the highlight.  With a dismissive wave of my hand, I puffed: “Risotto? yeahright!”  Ahem. “Grilled potatoes, then?”

Brother: “Wha?!  Risotto’s not hard, Sis.”

Me: “But…the stirring? The creamy?…What kind of rice again? Aw, shucks, we couldn’t…”

Brother: “Shut up. We’re making risotto.”

Or something like that. 

And that very evening, we enjoyed the single most delicious dish I have ever tasted.  And it was that much better because it was homemade.

I am forever grateful to my dear brother for totally demystifying the risotto-making process for me, and I’m happy to report that I’ve made it several times since then–different and delicious each time.  This weekend, I made risotto with button and shiitake mushrooms and felt compelled to extend that little bit of nirvana by commemorating it here.

So here goes!

Grab a couple pots, a skillet, a ladle, a wooden spoon.  (Normally I’m averse to using upward of 3 pans, plus equipment and gadgets, to make one dish, but risotto is a very worthy exception.)

In the medium saucepan, set about 4 cups of chicken stock on low.

In a heavy-bottomed large saucepan (I use something similar to this chef’s pan), melt a few tablespoons of butter over medium to medium low heat.  Soften a diced onion in the butter, maybe 8 minutes or so.  Add a generous cup (I eyeball it) of Arborio rice to the buttery, soft onion, and toast the rice for several minutes, stirring often.  You don’t want to brown anything here, just coat everything with butter and toast lightly. 

With your wooden spoon at the ready, pour in about a half cup (again, I eyeball it) of white wine, stir to keep from sticking, and savor. That 60 seconds after the wine hits the hot pan, blends with the onion and butter, and the alcohol evaporates is one of my very favorite combinations of kitchen sounds and smells.  It is almost as if time stops just then; even my kids will stop their sprint through the kitchen, their ears perked to the sound, their eyes trained on the steam rising from the pan, their little noses searching for the source of that beautiful, fleeting smell.

Anyway!  Once the wine is mostly absorbed, and with your flame at medium low, add a ladle’s worth of the warm stock and stir. 

From here on out, your plan is to stir in a ladleful of stock, be patient while the liquid absorbs and works its magic on those grains of rice, and stir just often enough to keep it from sticking.  Stir, be patient, stir; repeat.

Now, during that “be patient” step, I like to sip wine prep the rest of dinner, and by that I mean season the steak, sauté mushrooms, and make a green veggie.

For this dinner, I sautéed button mushrooms along with rehydrated shiitakes and sprinkled them with salt, pepper and some fresh thyme, and then I pureed half of them with a little stock.   [I know!  The first time I heard of pureeing mushrooms, I think my stomach turned a little–just as much at the thought of fewer of those delicious little bites of perfection for me to actually eat as at the thought of what the final product would look like.  Which, incidentally, is something akin to wet concrete.  Fortunately, it tastes infinitely better than that.]

After about 30 minutes of the stir, be patient, stir routine, you’ll notice that the rice has plumped considerably and has become dreamy creamy. 

Taste the risotto.  (I promise, it will taste better than this picture suggests! Please forgive my ineptitude with the camera…)  It should still have a bite to it, under lovely layers of smooth creaminess.

Now, you could lower the heat add some parmesan, salt and pepper (some folks add a splash of cream here) and consider yourself done.  Or!  You could up the wow factor by, like, a thousand and add those pureed mushrooms and the remaining pile of sautéed ‘shrooms and knock the socks off everyone at your dinner table. 

Because I am absent-minded make embarrassingly dull-looking final plates was starving, I didn’t get a picture of the final dish.  My sincere apologies.  To say it was amazingly delicious is nearly the understatement of the century.  And because I am my own biggest critic, you can be sure that, when I say it was outstanding, I so, so mean it.

Thank you, thank you, dear brother, for setting me straight on the whole risotto thing.  Unlike the brother and sister that currently live in my house, I will not go running to mommy and daddy and tattle because you said “shut up.” 

That is, if you promise to help me figure out that other thing that baffles and intimidates me:  polenta.

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Holiday Hooplah at Dad’s

Hosted the Wendehl crew and its various branches and leaves this year at Dad’s house.  Josh and I made 4 soups and other assorted edibles.  And everyone brought their assigned “dish”…and other assorted edibles.

Menu in review:

Beer Cheese Soup (and, yes, it was a soup!) – Josh

Chicken Noodle Soup

Turkey Wraps

Guac

Beef Barley Stew

Chili

Cookies & Fudge

Cinnamon Rolls

Cranberry dessert

Meats & Cheeses

Pickle Dip

Bread, bread and more bread

Pumpkin Bars

Dill Dip x2

Veggies

Chips

Pretzel Jello Salad

Puppy Chow

And probably more that I forgot…Man, oh man, it was a lot of food!

I could eat this every day

Josh was in town.  Translation:  We had risotto with dinner.  I might have demanded it. 

This time it was Butternut Squash Risotto, inspired by the cool mom-chef over at words to eat by.  I quartered and roasted a small butternut squash while Josh cooked the risotto, then pureed about 2/3 of it with a little brown sugar, thyme, stock and butter, and cubed the rest.  Added the squash to the risotto near the end of cooking (after removing a bit of the plain, but still delish, risotto from the pan to feed the skeptical children), finished with parmesan, S&P, and voila! heaven the most fabulous side dish ever.

Served it with grilled steak (because this was only the third day this month on which the sun was out, we had to celebrate! even though B grilled in the dark ;-)) and sliced carrots boiled and tossed with ginger and butter.