TWO-STAGE RISOTTO

Risotto is one of my favorite dishes,  but I refrain from making it for dinner parties because it does require some loving attention. No way to entertain your guests when risotto is on the menu, unless they don’t mind standing next to the stove with you, sipping wine and watching the rice gently bubbling away.

I’ve read a few articles describing how restaurants do it, though.  Obviously the customer cannot wait for 30 minutes as the kitchen staff prepares each plate to order, so they resort to a method said to work like a charm: the rice is cooked almost all the way through, then spread on a baking sheet to cool down.  Once the order comes in,  they spoon out a single serving, and finish it quickly on top of the stove.

I would be a bit insecure to try this approach for the first time on guests, but Phil and I were perfect guinea pigs for this experiment.  I  adapted a recipe for pea risotto from a recent issue of Food and Wine, and put the method to test.

TWO-STAGE PEA AND PROSCIUTTO RISOTTO
(adapted from Food and Wine, May 2011)

3 slices of prosciutto, cut in small pieces (use scissors)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 Tbs olive oil
1 small shallot, finely diced
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
4 – 5 cups chicken stock, warm (you won’t use it all)
1 Tbs butter
1/4 cup Parmiggiano cheese
salt and pepper to taste
a nice squeeze of lemon juice
1 cup pea shoots, very loosely packed

Heat the chicken stock in a saucepan, and keep on very low heat. Using a blender or the food processor, puree half the peas in 1/2 cup of chicken stock.  Reserve. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, cook the prosciutto until it starts to get crisp. Remove the pieces and place over kitchen paper, reserve.

In the same skillet, cook the shallots seasoned lightly with salt and pepper, until soft and fragrant.  If necessary, add a little more oil, then the rice and cook stirring often until all grains are well coated.  Add the wine and simmer until absorbed, about 3 minutes.

Add enough hot chicken stock to cover the rice, and cook over medium heat, stirring often.  Keep adding stock, one ladle at a time,  until the rice is about 75% cooked through (taste it, it should feel still hard at the center; it took me about 25 minutes).  Remove from the stove and immediately transfer it to a baking sheet in a layer.   Place it in the fridge until time to serve the dish (several hours won’t harm it).

When it’s time to finish the risotto, heat 1 cup of the remaining chicken stock in  the skillet, add the rice, cook for a couple of minutes, then add the reserved pea puree (warm it briefly in the microwave).  When the rice is done, nicely al dente, add the peas, the prosciutto, the  grated cheese, the butter, and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper, add the pea shoots right before serving, and

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This is definitely the solution to the “risotto for guests”  puzzle.  It tastes exactly as if it was prepared all the way through, and it takes literally minutes to serve.  The other detail in this recipe that won me over: the pea puree.  I’ve made plenty of pea risottos before, they are always delicious, but turning part of the pea in a puree raises the dish to a new high.  I think many types of risotto will benefit from this approach, so that’s something to experiment with in the future.    My husband suggested  the addition of chevre cheese instead of Parmiggiano, and I bet it will be a  delicious variation.

Remember: if you love risotto and want to include it in your next dinner party menu, don’t be afraid of the two-stage method!

ONE YEAR AGO: Life is a matter of taste (a small tribute to David Rosengarten)

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SPRING PASTA

Proving that there’s no such thing as too many recipes using asparagus, here is one more: a very tasty and healthy pasta dish to celebrate Spring, even if the season is already waving goodbye.  However, here in L.A. the warm weather is dragging its feet, temperatures barely hit the mid 70’s, and I still have to resort to long sleeves shirts.  It’s preposterous!

I got this recipe from a new food blog: Inspired Edibles, hosted by Kelly, where you’ll also find all sorts of articles related to nutrition and fitness, two topics I’m quite fond of.   Kelly got the recipe from  from Ellie Krieger, cookbook author and Food TV host. I made just a few changes to accommodate what I had around the kitchen.

SPRING PASTA
(adapted from this post in Inspired Edibles)

whole-wheat spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)
1 bunch of asparagus
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
3 Tbs olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chicken stock (or water)
fresh parsley, chopped
Iberico cheese, grated (or Parmiggiano Reggiano)

Heat oven to 375 F.   Cut the tough stems off the asparagus and discard.  Cut the stems in half, and unless the stems are very thin, slice the lower half in half lengthwise.  Place them in a baking dish, coat lightly with 1 Tbsp olive oil, sprinkle salt, and bake for 12-15 minutes, until barely soft.

Start cooking the pasta according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbs olive oil on a large non-stick skillet and saute the garlic and the sun dried tomatoes for a couple of minutes, until the garlic is fragrant and the tomatoes start to soften up.  Season with a little salt and pepper. If the pasta is not cooked yet, reserve the sauteed mixture over very low heat.   Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the skillet together with the chicken stock, reserved asparagus, 3/4 of the walnuts, parsley and grated cheese.  Mix well, and warm it all together in medium-high heat for a couple of minutes.

Serve with the remaining walnuts and additional grated cheese on top.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  The more I eat whole-wheat pasta the more I like it. Barilla is my top choice, but this time I used a Trader Joe’s alternative and found that its beautiful brownish color faded quite a bit upon cooking.  Not quite sure why that would happen, but it tasted fine, maybe a little less “toothsome” than Barilla.

Surprisingly,  there was no Parmiggiano in our home, so I used Iberico, a delicious Spanish cheese, similar to Manchego.  Since it’s not a hard, grating type cheese, it melted almost instantaneously in contact with the pasta.  Nothing wrong with that, actually, we loved it!  But it is a bit messy to grate, next time I’ll stick with the classic Parmiggiano.

Kelly, thanks so much for the inspiration,  you obviously picked a perfect name for your blog!   ;-)

ONE YEAR AGO:  Ice cream melts for mango

 

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BUTTERMILK CLUSTER

One of the English expressions that puzzles me the most is “easy as pie.”  That’s because I don’t see anything easy about making the dough,  rolling it out, and mastering the finishing touches that result in a gorgeous pie.  But, I promise  that this bread is  a cinch to make, and much, much easier than pie!  It quickly comes together,  so you can wake up on a sunny Sunday morning and make this bread in time for  brunch.

BUTTERMILK CLUSTER
(adapted from The Fresh Loaf Forum)

Makes 12 to 18 rolls, depending on size

6 to 6 1/2 cups (750 grams) bread  flour
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 envelope (2 1/2 teaspoons)  instant yeast
1 tablespoon warm water
2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey

Glaze:
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Topping:
1-2 tablespoons seeds (poppy, sesame) or grains (cracked wheat, rolled oats)

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Combine the warm water and yeast in a small cup and allow to proof for 5 minutes.

Pour the yeast, buttermilk, and honey into the flour mixture and mix to form a shaggy mass. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes, then do a 10-20 seconds kneading.  Cover the dough with plastic film, and let it rest for 15 minutes. Repeat the minimal kneading two more times, at 30 and 45 minutes, then let the dough rise for another 45 minutes undisturbed or until almost doubled in size (total bulk fermentation will be  about 90 minutes).

Divide the dough into 12 to 18 pieces. Shape each piece into a neat ball and place in a round dish or spring-form pan close together.

When all of the rolls are in the pan, cover again with plastic and set aside to rise again for 45 minutes to an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425.

Uncover the rolls and brush gently with the egg wash. Sprinkle on the grain topping. I used sesame seeds.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until the rolls are firm and spring back when tapped.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  I didn’t have a springform pan, and my smaller round cake pan could only fit 11 of the dough balls.   So, I shaped the leftover dough as a small loaf and baked it separately.

            

As I munched on these soft, springy rolls I kept thinking about Thanksgiving dinner :  they are perfect for that occasion, so keep them in mind. Thanksgiving is such a busy cooking day, and this recipe is so easy  that it will be something to give thanks for.  ;-)

Something strange and unexpected happened to the individual loaf I baked.  I sliced it, then placed on the kitchen counter to wrap in plastic and freeze.  But,  I forgot about it for a couple of hours and when I went to search for it, it was gone!   My beloved husband was not around, and one of the dogs is too short to reach the counter, which left two possibilities:

1. I have a double-personality disorder and the “other me” has no self-control.

2. The “other dog” knows how to get the most of those long skinny legs.

I guess we know which one it was (sigh).

I am sending this to Susan’s Yeastspotting

ONE YEAR AGO:  Grilled Lettuce Salad   (you’ve got to try it!)

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SLOW-BAKED SALMON

Let’s suppose that you find the flavor of salmon a bit strong, as I used to feel about anchovies and related items of a fishy persuasion. This recipe might just change your mind and begin a new gastronomic love affair.  With salmon, slow-baking until the meat is barely cooked gives the fish an almost mousse-like consistency, and flavor as mild as “salmon-ly” possible.   Plus, the lemon zest and thyme seasoning add a delicious counterpoint!   From the latest issue of Bon Appetit, this one goes into my favorites folder.

SLOW-BAKED SALMON WITH LEMON AND THYME
(adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2011)

1 + 1/2 Tbs olive oil, divided
4 salmon filets or 1 large piece, skin on
2 Tbs fresh thyme leaves, chopped
zest of 1 large lemon + juice
salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 275 F.  Line a baking dish with aluminum foil, coat it lightly with 1/2 Tbs of olive oil, and place the salmon filet over it, skin side down.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining tablespoon of olive oil with the thyme and lemon zest.  Rub this mixture all over the salmon, season with salt and pepper and squeeze a little lemon juice over it.   Let it rest for 10-15 minutes, then place it in the oven for 18-20 minutes, until the fish is just cooked.

Serve with lemon  wedges, and…

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  We eat salmon on a weekly basis, but almost always grilled.  Phil, the expert,  makes it exactly the way I love, with the center still moist, never over-cooked.  The high heat of the grill, however, doesn’t mellow the salmon character at all, quite the contrary. We both love it, but it’s nice to have a change of pace.

This method can be adapted to all sorts of seasonings. In fact, when we move back home next month I’ll grab my Jacques Pepin‘s  “Fast Food My Way“, and re-visit one of my favorite recipes in that book, a salmon filet cooked at an even lower temperature, for about 40 minutes.   If I remember correctly, he coats the filet with breadcrumbs and ground hazelnuts.  It is outstanding, like so many of Pepin’s recipes.

Stay tuned!  ;-)

ONE YEAR AGO: Farfalle, Farfalle

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ANCHOVIES, THE FINAL FRONTIER

This is my 300th post!

While growing up I was a picky eater.  The list of things I avoided was huge, including most vegetables (except for tomatoes and potatoes) and all kinds of seafood.   Invitations for dinner at a friend’s home made me worry for days, thinking about what to do if they served such or such an item. When my friends suggested a night out for sushi, I made sure that the restaurant had other choices (and I don’t mean miso soup or tempura!  ;-)).  But, in my twenties the food aversions started to bother me.    Even though I had trouble admitting it, I wanted to be a person who could appreciate any type of food that a host served me, and stop worrying about my humongous list of neurotic restrictions.

Slowly but surely I experimented  with things I disliked: a small bite here, a taste there, and to my surprise, I found that the worst part of the experience was not the food itself, but its anticipation, … the fear of it.  When I was 30 I’d overcome almost all my food aversions, and each one felt like a small victory. Nevertheless, one item stubbornly refused to capitulate: anchovies.  I recently set on a mission to change that.  Following  Jeffrey Steingarten in his great book “The Man Who Ate Everything,”   I’ll slowly  introduce anchovies in my cooking.  This recipe is my first step on the path to  enjoying them.

PASTA PUTTANESCA
(adapted from Fine Cooking, October 2010)

salt
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2  cloves garlic, minced
2-3 oil-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
One 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 lb. dried spaghetti
1/2 cup pitted brine-cured black olives, such as Kalamata, coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. nonpareil capers, rinsed and drained
1 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano or marjoram
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbs. of the olive oil with the garlic in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant, but not too dark, about 2 minutes.  Add the anchovies and red pepper flakes and cook for a couple more minutes. Add the tomatoes,  increase the heat to medium high, bring to a boil, and then simmer gently for 10 minutes.

After adding the tomatoes to the pan, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions until al dente.

When the tomato sauce is ready, add the olives, capers, and oregano and stir. Simmer until just heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil and season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

When the pasta is ready, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain well. Return the pasta to the pot, set it over medium-low heat, pour in the sauce, and toss, adding cooking water as needed for the sauce to coat the pasta. Serve immediately.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Pasta puttanesca was a perfect option for anchovies, because it has so many other flavors in the sauce: capers, black olives and herbs.  I felt a little uneasy opening the can of oil-packed anchovies, took a careful sniff and tried to concentrate on “umami” instead of “impossibly fishy.”  I had no idea that they would splatter so much in the pan, loudly announcing their presence  and making  a mess on the stove.  Next time I’ll be better prepared!

The verdict?  I detected a hint of the salty, smoky flavor of the anchovies, but nothing offensive.  This time I only used two filets, just to be safe, but the next time I’ll  add three.   Some day I want a slice of pizza with one of those small fish laying defiantly on top, but it may take more time!

Puttanesca is a hearty dish that will stand on its own as a meal, but because I wasn’t sure about it, I also prepared plan B: grilled flank steak.   It was really a tasty match!

ONE YEAR AGO:  Hoisin Explosion

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