Saturday, September 24, 2011

Family Feud

A Brief History of Italy
Northerners says risotto is made by dumping all the liquid into the pot at once and letting it cook without any fuss. Southerners says risotto is made by adding the liquid little by little and stirring every now and then.

A Brief History of My Family
My dad, being of southern Italian descent, taught us the slow, arduous method for making risotto. This is sometimes referred to as The Real Way.

Enter Adele
My dad's Significant Other is a Northerner. She is also an excellent cook. Her risotto comes out just fine. This makes enthusiasts of The Real Way uncomfortable.

I used The Real Way tonight to make a simple mushroom risotto. I realized, though, that I couldn't use the northern method until I figured out precisely how much liquid I needed, since adding too much would ruin the dish. I've never paid close attention to the amount, since I just kept adding some until the rice wouldn't absorb any more. So it turns out The Real Way is The Imprecise Way. Or The Lazy Way.

I usually use cremini mushrooms for this dish, though a number of varieties would work. Creminis are relatively inexpensive and easy to find, and add a bit more depth than button mushrooms. I used scallions in place of onions, partly because I had them in the fridge, and partly because I wanted a little extra texture and color in the dish. I used to make this dish with leeks, so I figured scallions were a reasonable substitute, but use whatever onion-esque option you have.

I also decided to throw in a little white wine this time, and it turned out to be one of the best risottos I've made. I used a very inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc I opened for another dish, and it was perfect. The flavor boost was especially helpful now that I don't use any parmesan, though of course wine adds a different note than salty cheese.

As I stood at the stove stirring the risotto, micro-managing the burner output, and adding Just Enough liquid, the thought creeped into my head that Real Way Risotto is a little high-maintenance. It can't be left alone for longer than a minute or two, because if it sticks to the bottom it's over. It can't get over-zealous liquid additions because if too much is added near the end it becomes soggy. Faintly, I could hear my dad's voice from my childhood in my head, high-pitched for dramatic effect: "I slaved all day over a hot stove, working my fingers to the bone to make this for you!"

And suddenly, I remembered the flavor of risotto we used to eat all the time: Real Way Risotto Infused With Guilt.

White Wine-Mushroom Risotto
The entire process should take about 30 minutes.

3/4 C arborio rice
1 3/4 C broth (vegetable or chicken)
1/4 C dry white wine
2 TBSP butter, divided
1 1/2 C sliced cremini mushrooms 
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 TBSP chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
grated parmesan (optional)

1. Saute mushrooms: heat 1 TBSP butter in a pan over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms. Cook until dark brown and mushrooms have released liquid. Leave just a little liquid in the pan. Sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt and pepper, and a little chopped parsley. Stir to combine. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Heat remaining butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add scallions and cook 1 minute. Add rice and stir well to coat grains with butter. 
3. When grains are translucent, add approximately 1 cup of broth. Stir to incorporate, making sure no grains of rice stick to the bottom of the pan. Allow rice to simmer for several minutes, stirring occasionally, scraping bottom of pan.
4. When nearly all liquid has been absorbed (do NOT allow rice to dry out completely), add another 1/2 cup of broth. Repeat process as in step 3. 
5. When nearly all liquid has been absorbed, add wine. Proceed as before. 
6. When wine has absorbed, add remaining broth a little at a time. You may have a few tablespoonfuls left over. Cook until rice is al dente. Add mushrooms and a little more fresh parsley. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parmesan, if desired.

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