Friday, September 19, 2014

A Master Recipe for Risotto

People often ask me what we eat for dinner on weeknights. Like a lot of families, we are busy with work, kids, and that seemingly endless pile of laundry. And while I'm always looking for something new, risotto will remain in my dinner rotation for a long time. It's a forgiving recipe and always delicious. I start with a few core ingredients from the pantry, to which I add whatever fresh stuff I happen to have around. Here are two recent examples: one with sautéed mushrooms and peas, and one with chopped fresh tomatoes and parsley. 

Part of what I hope to do in this blog is to inspire readers to cook at home more often. I recently read this post from a blog called The Happiest Home, which argues that the key to weeknight peace is to spend more time in the kitchen, not less. Risotto is a good start. While it doesn't take hours to make, it is a dish that requires full attention. 

If you do your "mise en place" ahead of time, you will be an efficient risotto cook. "Mise en place" is key to restaurant cooking, and it means to put "everything in its place" before you start applying heat to your food. This practice benefits the home cook too. For risotto, this means that the broth is heated, the ladle is sitting in the broth pot, the ingredients are chopped, measured and waiting by the side of the stove. Because once you start stirring, you really can't stop. 

So make sure there are no diapers to change or kids to pick up from practice. This dish gives you a nice 20 minutes or so of meditative stirring, and the result is a delicious dinner. So pick a night when you are around, get the kids stirring, and enjoy.

Risotto Master Recipe
serves 4

3-6 oz. pancetta
1 T. olive oil
3 shallots (or 1 large onion)
2 c. arborio rice
1/4 c. white wine
7- 8 c. chicken or vegetable broth
salt to taste
1 c. grated parmesan or fontina cheese (or a combination)
1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Add in up to 2 cups of the following:
mushrooms sauteed in garlic
chopped tomatoes
peas sauteed in a butter and thyme
roasted squash or cauliflower

Dice pancetta and cook in a large soup pot on medium heat until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel and set aside. While the pancetta is cooking, heat broth in a smaller pot. Keep it simmering on low and keep a ladle nearby.

Dice the shallots or onions finely, and place in a bowl by the stove. Measure rice, wine and cheese and place near the stove. Make sure any optional herbs or add ins are ready.

In the soup pot, add olive oil to pancetta drippings and heat on medium. Add shallots or onions and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, until the pieces are coated with the oil and are bright white, about 3 minutes (I had an instructor in cooking school who called the color you are looking for: "a whiter shade of white").

Add wine and cook off, then add 2 cups of broth to start. Stir, continuously, keeping the rice moving. The broth should be bubbling and the pan should be steaming--you want a vigorous heat but not enough to burn the bottom of the pan. As the broth gets absorbed, add more broth, 1 cup at a time.  If you are using unsalted broth, salt each time you add broth.

Repeat stirring and adding broth until rice is thoroughly cooked through. You are looking for the rice to be fully cooked and the consistency of the dish should be loose enough where the risotto spreads on a plate. Cooking time will be about 20 minutes depending on your stove, and you may not use all of the broth. Add additional broth at the end to ensure the risotto doesn't get too sticky, then turn off the heat and add the cheese. Taste and adjust for salt. Add optional herbs and toppings and eat!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Summertime Crostata

I'm starting to feel a slight sense of panic now that the last days of summer are closing in. I am buying so much corn my son, who usually loves corn, has started complaining. I eat tomatoes daily. The peaches are just coming in around here, and they are beauties. I like to can peaches, but a fresh fruit pie is one of the great joys of summer eating. 

So far this summer I've done sour cherry pies and blueberry pies in the more traditional pie plate. But sometimes I like a crostata, which you could also call a free form pie. It's forgiving both in terms of shape and amounts. And, as my daughter says, every bite has both crust and fruit. While a crostata looks stunning, I have found that peaches give off a lot of liquid when baked. As a result, a peach crostata can often be a soggy mess without the pie plate to rein it in. But then I read this clever trick on one of my favorite food blogs--strain the fruit beforehand! The results were delicious, minus the sog.

This photo was taken just before the crostata went into the oven. You get the idea. It was eaten up before I could take another photo. 

Summer Fruit Crostata
Serves 8 (leftovers are an awesome breakfast!)
Cream Cheese Pie Dough adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum

1 1/3 c. all purpose flour (can substitute 1/3-1/2 cup with whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 t. salt
8 T. unsalted butter, cold and cut into several chunks
3 oz. cream cheese, cold
2 T. cold water + ice to make 3 T. total
2 T. apple cider vinegar
5-6 peaches, nectarines or plums, cut into about 2 inch chunks
2 T. sugar
2 T. flour
1 t. salt
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 egg, beaten 
sugar for sprinkling

In a stand mixer, place flour and salt. Mix to blend. Add butter and cream cheese and mix until the dough looks shaggy and some butter chunks are the size of walnuts, about 1 minute. Add water and vinegar all at one and mix until the dough just comes together, about 30 seconds.

Turn the dough onto a clean, floured surface and press with the heel of your hand a few times. Gather it together into a rough circle, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least one hour (and up to one day).

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place cut fruit and sugar into a strainer over a bowl and let sit for 1/2 hour. Then mix in the flour, salt and lemon zest. 

Take out dough and place on a clean, floured surface. Roll until about 14 inches in diameter. Place dough circle on a sheet pan covered with parchment. Place fruit mixture in the center of the dough, leaving about one inch of dough uncovered around the edge. Fold edge over the fruit, then brush edge with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until the crust is browned and the fruit is bubbling, 30-40 minutes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tomatoes Tomatoes Tomatoes

Tomato season is like the Halloween of the harvest calendar, a time to gorge for what feels like a very short time. We are having a great tomato year here in New England, and it appears to be going strong for a few weeks yet.

Last week I was faced with a boatload of nature's candy from my CSA: ten pounds of heirlooms and three quarts of cherry tomatoes. Plus a few pounds of tomatillos (which aren't related to tomatoes but I put them in the same culinary bucket). I have lots of recipes I try to hit at least once a summer, like gazpacho, BLTs, tomato basil soup and tomato corn salad. But to mix things up, here's what I did last week. First I roasted some:

Then I made my favorite tomato sauce:

Then I brought a caprese salad to a barbecue:

And you know what? That took care of all my tomatoes and suddenly, I needed more. What I like about the roasted tomatoes and the sauce is that both can be frozen and brought out on a cold winter day. Like many good tomato dishes, you don't need a recipe for caprese, which is a mixture of tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella with some salt, pepper and good olive oil. But here are the other two recipes. Put them in a safe place, because come tomato time, you'll want to use them.

Roasted Tomatoes

Tomatoes, sliced about 1/4-1/2 inch thick
kosher salt
ground pepper
olive oil
thyme leaves (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lay tomato slices in a single layer on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, oil and thyme. Roast in the oven until slightly browned and bubbly, about 40 minutes.

Roasted tomatoes can be frozen at this point, then used in soups and sauces. Or for a decadent appetizer you can bake a puff pastry sheet until golden, then top with a single layer of the roasted tomato slices. Add a dollop of mascarpone and a basil leaf on top of each tomato.

Tomato Butter Sauce
adapted from Marcella Hazan

2 pounds tomatoes, chunked
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
4 T. butter
kosher salt to taste
1/4 c. sliced basil leaves (optional)

In a sauce pan, place tomatoes, onion halves, and butter. Heat on medium heat until bubbling, then lower to a simmer and cook until onion is soft, about 45 minutes. Remove onion halves and discard. Puree sauce with an immersion blender. Add salt to taste and basil leaves.

The sauce can be easily doubled, and it can be frozen. Use on pasta, pizza or lasagna.