|Risotto Primavera with Leek, Mushroom and Carrot|
Over the last year, I have grown to love risotto. The creamy texture and intense flavor that result from the slow incorporation of wine and broth as well as the endless potential of risotto as a medium make it an impressive dish, and I personally enjoy the zen-like hour of stirring in tiny amounts of liquid. Plus, it's a great workout for your arms (well, one of them).
This recipe for risotto, which has been kicking around my kitchen since about February, was conceived of as a Risotto Primavera, meant to celebrate the early spring veggies I was beginning to see at the farmers' markets. The final version is includes leek and mushroom, but it could easily make use of almost anything you want, as long as you adjust when you add the veggies so that they are fully cooked (but not disintegrating) and which wine you're using. To me, risottos are perfect year-round because of that flexibility, and because they are somehow both warm and hearty and relatively light, so they don't feel too heavy for summer.
Brainstorm: serve ratatouille over a very simple chardonnay risotto? Just thought of that. I am getting a little excited about summer and for me that means ratatouille, one of the first dishes I feel like I really perfected. I'll post that recipe when all the good summer squashes are finally out.
A note about wine - risotto is the perfect example of why they say, "Don't cook with a wine you wouldn't drink." Why? Because risotto shouldn't taste like bananas. At least, not when it also has mushrooms in it. The flavors in whatever wine you use will be intensified in the cooking process, and as the alcohol cooks off they lose that "cover," so to speak, so it is important not just what kind of wine you choose (e.g. sauvignon blanc versus chardonnay) but what it tastes like. That might sound a little fussy to some, but I have made risottos where the wine clashed badly with the ingredients and it just was not good. The wine store people always seem to have good suggestions.
In general, I try to use a sauvignon blanc with nice crisp green notes for light, fresh risottos while a big, buttery, oaky chardonnay is great for when I want a richer flavor or am working with sweeter flavors like squash or carrot. But I would really advise you to go with your instincts when pairing, and use wines you like and are familiar with. This recipe could handle most white wines without too much trouble.
Recently, I've been really wanting to make a beer risotto. I think it could work. I'll get on that soon and see what I come up with.
To the recipe!
Risotto Primavera with Leek, Mushroom and Carrot
Makes 3-4 servings, if I remember correctly. I pretty much ate it all myself.
Please forgive me if the measurements look a little strange; this one I had to do in metric because of the measuring cups I have here and converted it using the internet.
A generous 1.5 cups of Arborio rice
1.5 cups of wine
4-4.5 cups of veggie broth
3 smallish leeks
10 medium chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1-2 small carrots, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 c. Earth Balance or other vegan butter (plus a little extra to add at the end, if you like)
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/4 tsp. white pepper
Set out the wine in advance to let it get to room temperature, that would be ideal. Return the rest to the fridge so it's nice and chilled for you to drink while you cook (at least that's what I do).
Prepare the both, heating it to just below boiling in a large pot on the stove. Add the thyme, celery seed, and white pepper, stir thoroughly, and let it sit on the heat, covered, while you prep the veggies.
Slice the leeks, separate the rings, and carefully rinse them by submerging them in water and swishing them around a bit to wash all of the grit off. Leeks are notorious for sneaking dirt and grit into your food, so be thorough.
Slice the mushrooms thickly enough that as they cook they'll hold up to lots of stirring (though this needn't be too thick, they're usually pretty sturdy little guys). Quarter the carrots and slice thinly. Dice the onion and smash and finely chop the garlic.
Melt the vegan butter over medium heat in a large pot and then sauté diced onion and garlic until the onions are translucent, being careful not to burn the garlic. There should still be plenty of liquid from the melted butter at this point, and if not, add a little more and melt it, because it needs to coat the rice.
Add the rice and stir until it is fully coated in the butter. Then add the room-temperature wine, stirring as it incorporates into the rice. This is the last point at which you'll have any breaks, so make sure that all your other ingredients are at hand and you have a drink nearby, the windows open, etc., because in my experience it can get pretty hot standing over a pot for an hour (or 45ish minutes, but I rounded up for dramatic effect).
So, using a ladle or teacup or something, add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the hot broth to the pot and stir consistently until it is fully absorbed. Then repeat FOREVER.
You'll need to time carefully(ish) when you add your veggies so that they cook the right amount. For this recipe, add the carrots first, perhaps about 15 or 20 minutes in, and then the leek and mushroom 5 or 10 minutes later. I always think of it as about halfway through.
The only really tricky thing about risotto is developing that eye for the texture it needs to have. I watch how quickly it oozes (somehow always a gross word, but I can't really think of another) back in to place when I scrape a spoon across the bottom of the pan - there shouldn't be any liquid flowing ahead of the risotto, but it should never be dry and should move freely, if that makes any sense. The idea is to keep it always at the point where the liquid is almost fully absorbed but the risotto is moist and isn't sticking to the pan, which seems like it can happen almost instantly, hence the constant stirring.
There are those people who say you can make perfectly acceptable risotto in a crock pot. I hate them a little bit. Risotto is a labor of love - I put in the effort because of how much I adore the result, and I think you can taste it. That gentle coaxing of more and more liquid into each fat little grain of rice is a process that I believe can't be replace by a pressure-cooker or other such modern gadgetry. I can just feel the ghost of some Italian nonna backing me up on this one.
The cooking process usually takes me about 45 minutes. Remember that you don't have to add all the liquid, just as much as you need to get the texture right. Taste it as you go along - there should be no hard or grainy bit at the center of each grain of rice, but you the grains should still be distinct. You don't want it to go all soggy or have turned into a big mushy pudding. But, ultimately, it's about your taste - stop when you think it tastes right.
The traditional texture of risotto is referred to as all'onda, which means "like waves," referring to the way it moves when you tilt a plate of it. I like a risotto that you can eat with a fork rather than a spoon, but that's a personal preference. Just keep in mind that risotto continues to cook after you take it off the heat, and it will firm up a bit as it cools, so leave it slightly more moist than you want it to be when you serve. It is meant to be served immediately, but I always make extra and leftovers are delicious. One thing I've been wanting to try with my leftovers is little pan-fried risotto cakes, perhaps lightly breaded. Next time!
To finish, stir in a couple of tablespoons of vegan butter. Purists would tell you to whip this in as quickly as possible to emulsify the butter with the liquid (obviously, that method is more suited to risotto with more liquid at the final stage).
***Special thanks to Grace Eddy for being an excellent taste-tester and for talking to me while I stirred for an hour.