Friday, August 20, 2010

Lazy-person's not-quite-risotto.

This is another old post, which I've salvaged from my abandoned blog. Faux-risotto is a definite love of mine, even though I never use the right rice and I like extra ingredients added. It's so easy to adjust with the seasons, and to use whatever is on hand. Flexible recipes are definitely my favourite.

Taken from Feb 21, 2010:

So, let's face it, I'm not always the dilligent cook that I should be. Sure, I know the proper technique for making the perfect risotto. I think everyone does by now! But that doesn't always mean that I can be bothered with it. Not to say I stray too far from the beaten path; there's still a few necessary steps to ensure that you end up with creamy rice instead of a pilaf or fried rice. But I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that risotto is one of those foods that you can be quite lazy with, even if everybody's Nonna will tell me otherwise.

Let me be blunt here: I'm not much of a 'traditional' cook. I could, theoretically, follow a recipe very closely if I wanted to. The problem is that there are certain foods I have to avoid, and certain foods that I don't really like, and most of the time that teaspoon of vanilla gets upped to a tablespoon... I think you get the picture. I love to meddle with recipes, and to put my own spin on other people's ideas. I rarely make identical dishes, because everything depends on what's in season (or, more accurately, what's in the fridge) and risotto is a good example of this. My favourite additions are pumpkin and peas. Mushroom risotto is also popular, and sometimes I add a few tablespoons of tomato paste at the end to give it a nice richness. But hey, if it's thirty five degrees outside, then I want something lighter.

Enter vegetable risotto. My first point here is that this recipe is designed to be tampered with in every which way, so the ingredients list is a little, uh... vague. The second of which is that I don't eat onions - I have a few food intolerances, and that one tops the list. Alliums in general, actually, but that doesn't stop me from using garlic on occasion! (Take that, Ayurveda!) I use celery in lieu of onion a lot of the time, partly because it cooks similarly, but also because I really love celery. If I buy an entire head of celery, I separate the segments and use all the leftovers to make stock, which I then use in this risotto. I recommend trying that sometime, because the intensity of celery flavour is something amazing.

I also don't eat dairy, which is another intolerance, but don't let that stop you from finishing this risotto with cream or parmesan shavings if you like - especially if you're eating it in colder weather than we're having here.

Veg risotto:

1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 stalks celery, finely sliced (You could use an onion if you choose)
3 large mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp crushed garlic, optional
1 cup pumpkin cubes (i used butternut squash, but any pumpkin is fine)
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
vege stock (don't ask for quantities, i just add it at leisure!)
salt, pepper, chopped parsley - to taste.

I begin by sauteeing the celery in the oil, just until it's bright green and starts to soften. The reason why I start with this first is because celery takes longer than mushrooms to cook, so I add those only once the celery is semi-done. Sauteeing brings out the flavour, and ensures that things that you don't want raw (crunchy celery is not ok in risotto!) have a head start. Slicing your celery finely helps here, too.

Add the pumpkin and garlic if you're using it. Again, you just want to sautee it until it's a little toasty - you're not trying to get it entirely cooked here, just bring out the flavours a little. It might look like there's not enough oil in the pan, but as all of the ingredients sweat as they cook, just keep stirring until the threat of sticking has passed. Then you can be a little lazier about it!

Once the vegetables have started to soften, add the rice and stir until the grains are coated. I like to linger over this step for a little while, because I think letting the rice toast a little emphasises the flavour. And really, rice is delicious; I could happily live on it. So don't be afraid to actually taste the rice!

When the rice is toasted (you'll notice the grains get whiter, but you don't need them to colour), add the white wine and let it evaporate. You don't want to taste the alcohol, so I like to let it disappear completely before starting to add the stock. You could use homemade stock, which is always the best option, but hey, it wasn't going to happen. No one really wants to have their stove on all day when it's the middle of Summer, surely. So mine came from a cube. Sue me.

Now, here is where you theoretically add a ladleful of stock, stir lovingly until it has absorbed, and then repeat the process a squillion times until the rice is tender and creamy. But, really, I had better things to be doing... like playing with my camera settings in between taking photos. So this is where this risotto gets lazier. I'm not going to put in all the liquid at once, or neglect to stir it, because then I'd end up with more of a paella. But, all I'm suggesting is that you can be a little rougher with your risotto than your Nonna tells you, ok? Sure, you could get a perfect risotto if you can be bothered... but sometimes, it's just easier to get it done and to EAT!

Gratuitous eggplant shot. Some family friends had dropped around a large bag of slender eggplants and beautifully ripe tomatoes, fresh from their garden. It really made me miss having a garden, because last Summer it was me who provided everyone I knew with more tomatoes and eggplants than they knew what to do with. But I decided to utilise them while my risotto simmered - the eggplants were grilled quickly, and the tomatoes were cut into slices and roasted with red wine vinegar, olive oil, and seasoning. (This is my favourite base for bread salad/panzanella - add your roasted tomatoes to cubed, crusty bread and chopped cucumbers, mix in lots of fresh parsley and basil, and use the juices from the tomatoes as dressing. Amazing!)

You can see here that the rice grains are starting to swell; I've obviously just added more liquid in the above photo. Make sure the heat isn't too high or else the pumpkin will disintegrate, and your rice will stick to the bottom when you're slack with the stirring. An episode of Antiques roadshow, with stirring in the commercials, is usually plenty of time! I add handfuls of freshly chopped parsley at the end - basil also goes in pretty well, and often I like to add a cup of frozen peas, but I couldn't be bothered fishing them out from the freezer. If you add the peas still frozen, they only need a minute or two to defrost sufficiently, so you can add them after you've taken the risotto from the heat. Then they keep their great colour, too.

So there's dinner. Kindly ignore the lack of focus - I was too busy salivating to bother much with the camera, owing to the fact that I was clearly starving. (Anyone who knows me will tell you that there's no chance of me starving - all I do is eat!) Meals like this are great because you get old favourites with a more summery twist, and because you can eat a pretty decent serve without worrying about your waistline. Not that I worry about mine anyway, because Mum seems to have passed down her metabolism, but hey, it's the thought that counts, right? :)

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