The Hand Off: Risotto with Gold Coins
by Sarah A. Maine
For this week’s recipe, I used the squash and the creaminess of Brianna’s Summery Squash Salad to inspire a rich risotto. For me, the decision to cook risotto presented a dual challenge. First, as I mentioned in my Tuesday post, I had never made risotto before. Second I wanted to buy rice that was both appropriate for risotto and friendly to the planet. Traditionally risotto is made with arborio rice – a short grain Italian variety that is high in starch, giving it the celebrated characteristics of creaminess and chewiness.
In my pre-cooking research I read that you can make risotto with any medium or short grain rice, but as a novice risotto maker I decided it would be safest for me to stick with the traditional choice for my maiden attempt: arborio. In the rice aisle at the supermarket I was confronted with multiple types of rice: from white to wild, short to long grain; produced using an array of growing practices from conventional to certified organic. I settled on Lundberg Family Farms arborio rice which was labeled “eco-farmed”.
Eco-farmed. What did that mean? Deciphering labels is one of the greatest challenges of trying to be a conscientious consumer. As product labeling has become more transparent it has also become more complex. I spend an inordinate amount of time in the aisles of supermarkets reading the labels on food products. Some very good resources have been developed to help consumers read and interpret product labels across all different categories. Here are a few that I have used: Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices Eco-labels center, the Good Guide, and Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database. I was skeptical of the ambiguous label, so I looked up “eco-farmed” when I got home. I learned that Lundberg Family Farms coined the term to describe a hybrid of conventional and organic farming practices. Not exactly ideal, but I was glad to see on the company website that they have pledged to continually improve their sustainability practices. In the future I think I will avoid their “eco-farmed” products but I would be happy to support their sustainability efforts by using their certified organic offerings.
This recipe is a very basic risotto recipe derived partly from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (pg. 517) and partly from Lidia’s Italian American Kitchen (pg. 195). The combination of leeks, wine, stock, and squash produced a subtle blend of flavors, a perfect counterpoint for a zesty salad. Now that I am armed with some risotto making experience and some additional label awareness, I’m ready for more daring forays into the risotto landscape.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 leek
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups arborio rice (or some other medium or short grain rice)
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
- Large pinch saffron threads
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 yellow squash
- finely grated cheddar cheese
- Trim the leek, removing the thicker dark green tops of the leaves, leaving the white and light green sections. Slice the leek lengthwise down the center and then chop it into small half rounds about 1/4” wide. Place your chopped up leek into a bowl of cold water. As they grow, leeks collect a lot of grit between their leaves, this step will allow all the dirt particles to sink to the bottom of the bowl instead of making their way into the risotto.
- Slice the squash into thin rounds and put them aside.
- Drain the leeks. Put 2 Tbs of olive oil into a deep skillet or large sauce pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the leeks, cover and cook until the leeks are soft (about 5 minutes).
- While the leeks are cooking warm the stock in another pan and add the saffron threads.
- Once the leeks are tender, add the rice to the pan, stirring until the grains are covered with olive oil, and toast for about 2 minutes.
- Add the 3/4 cup of dry white wine to the rice, cook, stirring, until the liquid is fully absorbed by the rice.
- Begin to add the stock, about 1/2 cup (one ladle-full) at a time, allowing each batch to be absorbed completely before adding the next. Stir the mixture throughout this process, when you can see the bottom of the pan you are ready to add more stock. Adjust the heat as you go so that the rate of absorption/evaporation stays steady and is not happening too fast. This is the most difficult part of the recipe – the constant stirring can be tiring; it gets harder as the mixture thickens and the risotto really starts to form. Keep it up! The last thing you want is burned risotto!
- When you have about 1 cup of stock left to add, put in the rounds of squash and stir them into the mixture. Keep adding the stock as before.
- At about 20 minutes in, taste the risotto, and keep tasting it until the rice is just done – “al dente” – soft on the outside with a chewy, almost crunchy center.
- When the rice is cooked, turn off the heat, add 4 Tbs of olive oil and the salt and pepper. Serve immediately with cheese grated on top!
The trickiest thing about making risotto is the process of stirring and adding liquid so that is is absorbed properly. It may be a little labor intensive to make for a regular dinner at home, but a well made risotto can be a real show stopper at a dinner party – if anyone asks you how you made it, just smile and say “very carefully”. Since my last post the temperature has shot back up into the 90s in New York, so I’ll be delaying any more risotto attempts until fall is in full swing. Until then, if you have any risotto wisdom to share – good experiences, bad experiences, special ingredients – please leave a comment (the link is at the top of the post) and tell us all about them.