Beet Risotto

Ingredients

  • 3 Cups Arborio Rice
  • 3-4 Beets (medium-large) roasted, peeled, diced, warmed
  • 1.5 Cups Dry white wine
  • Roughly 1 Cup (by volume) Parmesan Cheese finely grated
  • 3.5 TBSP Butter cold
  • 1 White Onion very small dice
  • 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil use good quality 
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • Finely shaved fennel, and fennel frawns to garnish
  • Chives chopped small
  • Parsley chopped fine
  • 2.5 qts. (hot) Chicken Stock or other flavorful meat or vegetable stock as needed

Method of Prep

1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, add a TBSP of butter and drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. When the pan gets hot, add the diced onion. Sweat until the onions soften and become translucent.

2. Add rice and continuously stir being careful not to burn. The point of this is to “toast” the rice, while coating and flavoring each grain with butter/ oil and onion. Be careful not to burn or add color to the rice. After roughly 10-15 minutes, add the white wine. Continuously, stir until wine has mostly absorbed and evaporated. At this point remove from heat if you want to reserve for later use, or continue the recipe and begin adding the stock.

3. When adding the stock, it really should only take about three additions of a couple ladle fulls of hot stock. It is important to keep the rice moving as it cooks and absorbs the stock to insure that the grains cook evenly. After a few minutes of cooking and the rice starts to thicken, add some more stock and continue stirring.

4. When the risotto has come to more of a creamy consistency (this will usually take roughly 15-20 minutes) remove from heat. If too thick, add a bit of stock to loosen. Now add the diced beets, butter, olive oil and cheese. Vigorously stir to incorporate. The proper consistency is achieved when a ladle full of risotto is put on a plate and is able to slowly spread across the surface of the plate when tilted. Sprinkle on fennel, chives, and parsley to each serving. Be sure to serve right away.

*For another risotto recipe, check out this mushroom risotto!

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Polenta

I hadn’t had real polenta before I went to Italy to learn how to cook. It was on the menu at La Locanda di Piero where I was completing my internship. I had maybe had it once or twice there, not really thinking much of it. But, when I had Easter dinner at the home of one of the chef’s parents, only then did I grow to love it! It was served as a side to a large pan of roasted goat (first time with that too). It was plain, made with water and probably a touch of salt and olive oil. However, when topped with roasted goat and the juices from the pan, it was something that I’ll never forget. I’m not sure if it was the ambiance of being at a traditional Italian dinner as really the only one who spoke English, and NOT Italian. Or, if it was the few glasses of wine. Regardless, that was one of the most unforgettable meals of my life, and it was amazing in it’s simplicity.

The polenta was dumped from it’s pot out onto what I think was a large cutting board set behind the table, where we spooned our servings from. This method of serving porridge, as if it was the highlight of the meal, was what really stuck out to me.

Polenta is a traditional staple ‘peasant dish’ of Northern Italy who’s origins pre-date ancient Rome. It has become quite popular in the culinary world and can even be found in some of the worlds best restaurants. Throughout my time cooking, I had always been intrigued by traditional cuisine, mostly regional Italian, and the history behind food preparation and the ingredients. The focus on quality and simplicity is why it’s so interesting to me.

Most people would overlook this as a source of starch/ carbohydrate for meals. However, it is extremely versatile as it can be cut and grilled, sauteed, fried, roasted or broiled after it has cooled from it’s creamy porridge consistency. A half cup serving provides roughly 15-20 grams of carbs (depending on the ratio of liquid used) and pairs really well with meat and fish, or even as a stand-alone side. Some recipes call for boiling the coarse cornmeal in a mixture of water and milk (my favorite) with a little extra virgin olive oil and salt. Typically, you’d use a 3:1 ratio of liquid to cornmeal for a soft consistency. Top with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs, and good quality olive oil for a tasty side dish.

Roasted Broccoli with Kalamata Olives, Garlic and Lemon

Here is a hearty vegetable recipe from the other night, with a little spice to it. I’ve been a big fan lately, of roasting vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, etc. as opposed to steaming, or blanching. In developing a much heartier character for the cold weather, it makes for a much more interesting flavor in many cases, and saves some time.

Ingredients;
3 Heads of broccoli, washed, cut into spears
8 cloves of garlic, peeled, minced
1 cup of Kalamata olives, chopped
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
1 Cup (+ some extra) of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Lemon
Parmesan Cheese
Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper

Method of Prep;

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat with garlic and pepper flakes. Careful not to let garlic brown. When the oil starts to bubble around garlic, cook for roughly two to three minutes and then remove from burner.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, drizzle garlic and pepper oil evenly over broccoli. Use a spoon, or your hands to toss the broccoli spears with oil, making sure that each spear is lightly coated. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Lay broccoli spears flat on a sheet pan lined with foil or parchment paper.
  5. Roast until broccoli spears are tender and (only very slightly) start to turn golden- brown on the edges. Then, remove from the oven.
  6. To serve, dress a serving with a very light drizzle of olive oil, a squirt of lemon juice, a small handful of chopped olives, a light sprinkle of nutmeg, and a dusting of Parmesan cheese.

Seared Radicchio and Fennel Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 Bulb Fennel, shaved
  • 1 Head of Radicchio, halved and sliced in strips
  • 1/2 LB. of Bacon, chopped, rendered crisp
  • 1 Lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 Cup good quality capers and/or olives; kalamata, nicoise, etc., chopped
  • 2 TBSP Canola or Vegetable oil for sauteing
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parsley finely chopped
  • Chives finely chopped

Method of Prep

1. In a saute pan over medium heat with a dab of canola oil, add chopped bacon and render until crisp. Remove from pan onto a paper towel to absorb extra fat. Cool and reserve for salad.

2. In a separate, very hot pan with a little bit of canola or vegetable oil, sear the radicchio. Keep it moving in the pan. When it starts to caramelize a bit, remove and cool on a sheet pan.

3. When radicchio has cooled, toss it together with the fennel, bacon bits, olives, lemon juice, capers/ olives and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and parsley/ chives. Be sure to taste and adjust seasoning according to personal preference!

White and Sweet Potato Hash with Fresh Herbs

Ingredients

  • 4 Sweet Potatoes peeled, cubed
  • 4 White Potatoes peeled, cubed
  • 1 Onion diced
  • 2 TBSP Bacon Fat
  • 3 Garlic cloves minced
  • 1 TBSP Fresh Thyme
  • 1 TBSP Fresh Parsley
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Method Of Prep

  1. Using a cast iron skillet over med-high heat, heat bacon fat until the pan becomes very hot but not yet smoking.
  2. Add the onions and potatoes at the same time so that both the onions and potatoes will caramelize. Stir occasionally, making sure not to let them burn. About half way through cooking, add the garlic.
  3. When potatoes become tender and have developed some crispness, remove from pan and turn into a mixing bowl. Dress with lemon, herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.

*Note; be careful not to try to make a large batch unless you are using a very large pan. Over-crowding your pan will lead to too much moisture and more of steamed, mushy potatoes with no flavor development through caramelization. 

*Try experimenting with this recipe as the base. I’ve added chicken/ duck leg confit, or crisp bacon. Or, in the summer, fresh diced tomato as part of the final seasoning.

Garlic and Herb Roasted Turnips

Ingredients:

  • 3 Turnips peeled, cut in 1/2 inch batons (or cubes)
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic peeled, minced
  • 5 Sage Leaves chopped fine
  • 3 Rosemary stalks chopped fine
  • 1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 TSP Lemon zest minced
  • Salt to taste
  • Black Pepper to taste

Method of Prep:

  1. Set oven to 325F.
  2. In a bowl, toss together all ingredients and spread out on parchment-lined sheet pan. Be careful not to pile turnip batons/ cubes on top of each other, otherwise you won’t get any caramelization (which helps to sooth the bitterness of this vegetable). Lay as flat as possible. Use two sheet pans if need be.
  3. Turn every 15 minutes or so to help the turnip cook evenly.
  4. When turnip is fork tender (a fork meets no resistance when sticking into the turnip in this case) they are done. Remove from the oven and turn onto a serving platter or bowl.

*You can also use other starchy vegetables with this preparation like rutabega, some squashes/ pumpkins, potatoes, etc.

Mushroom Risotto with Crispy Shitake

“Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness.” –Auguste Escoffier

I’ve got, in my opinion, one of the best cookbooks you can buy, at home. Made In Italy Food and Stories by Giorgio Locatelli. This was given to me by a chef I had worked for quite a few years ago. Giorgio Locatelli is a very talented, Michelin starred and world renowned Italian chef who owns and runs Locanda Locatelli in the UK. In his book mentioned above, he has about 70 pages devoted to history, information, stories and recipes centered around; Risotto.

When I started my cooking internship at La Locanda di Piero, my chef told me that by the time I left, I’d know how to make risotto. Among many other things, that’s certainly one thing I took away with me. On the downside however, I tend to get very critical when I go out to eat, especially when it comes to things like risotto, pasta, and gnocchi.

Risotto is most commonly made from Arborio or Carnaroli rice. These types of rice are what gives risotto it’s creamy texture due to the grain releasing starch during cooking, which is what provides for a rich mouth feel at the end. There is a very specific way to make risotto which if not followed, or if corners are cut, it will not turn out the way it should. Risotto is not by any means “unhealthy” as that is a subjective term. People tend to think that risotto has a ton of carbs, butter and cheese. But, if good quality ingredients are used, then the butter and cheese are meant to compliment those ingredients, not overwhelm them. As far as the carbs are concerned, there really isn’t any more carbs in a serving of risotto than in regular rice. Knowing how much you should have, compared to how much you want is a different story.

It is in my general opinion that if people would learn to cook properly and actually spend a little time doing it, they would be happier and healthier. I don’t like to split hairs on what is healthy and what is not; the common question of what is better; brown rice or white rice tends to bother me. As long as you are able to understand what a specific food will provide from a nutritional standpoint in comparison to your individual caloric needs and how much of it to eat, this is far more important. A serving of this will give me roughly 35 grams of carboydrate, 20 grams of fat and 13 grams of protein for a total of roughly 380 calories. This is something that I can afford due to my relatively high caloric needs. Someone weighing less than me with needs that are also less, may only have half of a cup.

The Process

In properly making risotto, I always start off by sweating off some finely diced, white onion in fat. Typically, I’ll use canola oil, walnut oil, bacon fat (if I think it will add to a recipe and it makes sense) or other animal fat. Once the onions become translucent, I will add in the rice to toast it, stirring constantly. It becomes important at this point, to be careful not to use too much heat as you don’t want the rice (and onion) to burn. This “toasting” is an essential part of making the risotto because it allows all of the rice granules to be individually coated in the cooking fat, heat up, and then subsequently cook more uniformly. After about 10-15 minutes, or when you start to get a “nutty” aroma from the rice, add some dry white wine, stir, and let the wine cook down a bit. If making the risotto right from here, continue adding the hot stock and principal ingredients, such as mushrooms in this case.

Properly adding the stock is also a very important part of the process. The stock must already be hot. Set it up right next to your risotto pan, where you can carefully ladle in the stock to the rice. This must be done in parts, by the ladle-full, and this is where it becomes a little tricky. Each addition of stock must be done just to barely cover the surface of the rice. Don’t add more stock until the previous addition has been absorbed. Dependent on the amount of rice being made, it will likely only take two to three separate additions of stock before the end. Make sure to be diligent in stirring the entire time, otherwise you’ll get an uneven cooking of the rice and it will stick to the bottom of the pan making for a really bad time, and ruined risotto! Towards the end of the cooking, you will see it start to thicken, the surface becoming sort of shiny. It is important to be diligent in this preparation as the stock can always be added, but never taken away! This should take roughly 15 minutes. At this point, remove the pot from the heat and let rest. The rice should be creamy, not runny. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary however, be very careful as it will be extremely hot. Add the butter, cheese and a bit of good extra virgin olive oil with a tablespoon of chopped parsley. Beat in vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth. If the risotto is too thick, add a touch of stock. If you can ladle out a scoop of risotto onto a plate and tilt it, the risotto should very slowly start to spread on the plate.

I prefer to have/ serve risotto spread across the plate like this because when you sprinkle fresh herbs, or add other elements to the dish like the toasted mushrooms, each bite will taste the same due to a larger surface area being garnished with the finishing touch.

The Risotto

2 Cups Arborio Rice
8-9 Cups of Mushroom Broth (see below) or Chicken Stock
3 Pints of Mushrooms (preferably wild/foraged,)
1 Pint of Shitake mushrooms julienned, toasted (see below)
1 Ounce Canola Oil
1 Cup White Wine dry
1 Large white onion chopped fine
Salt & White Pepper to taste
2 TBSP Parsley chopped fine
4 TBSP Butter (good quality, i.e. Kerrygold, Plugra, portioned by the tbsp)
1 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil (good quality, look for “first cold pressed, extra virgin.” It will NOT be cheap and should be in a                 glass, dark green bottle. You will never use a lot of it, only for occasions like this.)
Around a Cup of Parmesan Cheese finely grated

Mushroom Broth

When cleaning and preparing the mushrooms for the risotto, most people will throw away the stems. In this case, for a mushroom risotto, if you didn’t have chicken stock on hand, you can make a quick mushroom broth. Do this by starting the discarded mushroom stems in a pot with cool water. Slowly bring the mushroom stock up to just under a simmer and hold for about 20-30 minutes. When ready to use, you may strain, or just ladle right from hear being careful not to drop the stems into the risotto. You can also do this using chicken stock for even more depth of flavor.

Toasted Shitake

Take the julienned shitake mushrooms and toss them in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them onto a parchment lined sheet pan and “toast” them in the oven at 325F until dry. Check every 10-15 minutes, move them around a bit so they toast evenly. Keep in mind that as they cool they will become crispier.