Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ode on a Grecian Risotto

Thou still unravished bride of cheesiness,
Thou foster child of broth and low heat,
Arborian historian, who canst thus express
A winey tale more sweetly than our meat:
What olive-fringed legend haunts about thy sauce
Of cukes or basil, or of both,
In Athens or the dales of Seattle?
What veggies or fruits are these? What tomoatoes loath?
What mad feta? What struggle to eat?
What greens and olives? What wild ecstasy?

The truly wonderful thing about both Risottos and the online availability of classic poetry is that the parts are, given a basic structure, almost wholly interchangeable with other ingredients, and the result is still, almost universally satisfying. That's probably stretching the metaphor a little thin, I admit, especially because my bastardization of Keats above is anything but satisfying, but the point stands: Copy and paste whatever you feel like into a pre-formatted template, and you can do a Risotto of any style, with wonderful results. (Quick aside, for an hilarious example of this tactic taken with poetry, see this book of poems with their titles taken from Jewel's "A Night Without Armor," here's the author's introduction: Dear Jewel, I am writing this letter to thank you for your book of poetry. A Night Without Armor has been so inspirational to me that I’ve written an entire book of poems in four hours called A night without armor II: the revenge.")

At any rate, to execute the kind of copy-and-paste strategy that I'm talking about here, you need a template. There are many ways, I imagine, to make a good Risotto. I hear a lot about how people are afraid to make Risottos, this is probably because most people make Risotto in some way which is more authentic and thus more difficult than the way I make Risotto. Either that or there is some secret plot to keep Risotto out of the hands of the lazy. I haven't decided which of these I believe, but I do know that they are really quite easy to make, if a little time-consuming (do you consider 45 minutes time consuming? I would think that most chef's don't), and once you have the hang of it, they are an awesome way to get rid of whatever is lying around the kitchen which, as evidenced by my earlier posts, is a passion of mine. Where was I? right, template. My template comes from the good people (Ithacans like me) at The Moosewood Restaurant, pioneers of vegetarian cooking and, in particular, vegetarian cookbooks (The Moosewood Cookbook and The Moosewood Cooks at Home remaining staples of nearly every vegetarian kitchen). Ray Ray and I are not vegetarians (see chicken curry post) but we don't eat that much meat at home, and don't like to pay for it, so vegetarian cooking is pretty common. My mother, wonderful soul that she is, gave us this cookbook when we moved in, a collection of easy, weekday night dinners, sides, salads, etc, with shortcuts and easy to find ingredients built in. From here I lifted the basic Risotto recipe, which I won't reproduce in full, but which you will get the gist of from my recipe.

Greek-Style Risotto
Serves 4

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 tbs. olive oil
1 qt. Vegetable Broth
3 cups Arborio Rice
1 cup White Wine
1 can Black Olives (or a 1/2 pint fresh black or kalamata olives)
1/2 a Cucumber chopped
1 Large Tomato chopped
5-6 Mushrooms, sliced, chopped or however you like 'em
1/4 cup Basil finely chopped (plus a few whole leaves for garnish)
1/2 pint crumbled feta

Start the vegetable broth in a medium sauce pot and bring to a simmer, in the mean time, chop chop chop.

Coat the bottom of a large pot with olive oil and bring to medium high heat, add the garlic and simmer until golden. Add the rice and stir until each grain is coated with oil, then add the wine and stir in until it is almost all absorbed. Start adding the broth a large ladleful at a time, stirring periodically (every 30 seconds, minute, or so) until it is almost all absorbed, before adding the next ladleful. This is the bulk of your Risotto-making, adding broth and stirring, how anyone is daunted by this is a complete mystery to me. When you're a little more than halfway out of broth, you should stir in any firmer veggies you might want to soften, like cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, whatever's clever, (in this recipe, only the cukes). When you add the last of the broth, add all the rest of your veggies and stir them in. When the broth has been absorbed, remove from heat and quickly stir in the feta (spinach, if that's your thing, might be a nice addition to this recipe, and it would go in here, with the feta). Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a little feta, basil, and paprika.

Serve with some toasted pita bread and that stuff next to your empty brita filter, have yourself some wine, and don't forget a shot of ouzo to cap off the night.



PS I took a closer look at the photo here and noticed mushrooms which I had forgotten about (I have since added them to the recipe) but this is truly a testament to the versatility of Risotto, as well as to the fact that I made this a long time ago, and then made it again, but with different ingredients. Anyway, as long as you keep the liquid to Arborio ratio equal, and you're willing to stir stir stir, all you need to do is pick your cheese and your veggies, add any kind of meat you want and it's your own recipe. Kribs is spreading the word: Risottos are easy, go make them!