Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Poise Regained


What a hairy week. After the circus on Tuesday, I needed to recover my composure. As I mentioned, I took to my pool on Tuesday afternoon, then took to my bed. In between, I made dinner.

Comfort food was called for. Something that required repetitive, soothing motions. Tai chi in the kitchen, if you will.

So I made risotto.

A lot of people avoid risotto because it demands a lot of time at the stove, stirring. That's one of the reasons that I enjoy making it, provided I have the 30-40 minutes that it takes. I can stand at the stove and stir methodically, adding chicken stock at regular intervals, and zone out. When I'm done, I have a creamy, filling meal and a centered chi.

Last night, I told my mother that I made risotto to help cope with the day's trials. She laughed and commented that it's interesting what different people eat for comfort. My grandmother, she reminded me, could eat a gallon of ice cream in one sitting when she is under stress. My other grandmother derived strength from a pack of cigarettes, a pot of coffee, and a pan of homemade fudge (she no longer goes for the cigarettes or coffee, but the woman can still put away an unsettling amount of chocolate). A friend of mine craves Tex-Mex when she wants comfort food, and a different friend eats those scary "Ranch-flavored" chips.

Which makes me wonder: What's your comfort food?

Risotto with Green Vegetables
A Fritter Original

You're going to be stirring a lot when you make risotto. Some people will tell you that you need to stir constantly. I don't buy it. You can step away from your saucepan for a few minutes to prep vegetables or set the table. Just don't get hooked on an episode of Hardball or spend 10 minutes photographing asparagus.

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon (roughly 1 clove) garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine (I used an unoaked chardonnay, but sauvignon blanc would work too)
1/2 cup risotto rice
1 zucchini
1 bunch of asparagus, cut 1 1/2 inches below the tips
1/2 cup shelled edamame (frozen is fine)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley

The Risotto

Heat the chicken stock in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering. Reduce the heat to low and cover.

In another medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until almost translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1-2 minutes to prevent browning. Add the wine and reduce for about 6 minutes, until the liquid is almost completely evaporated and the onions are thick.

Add the risotto rice to the onions and stir to coat. Cook the rice for 1-2 minutes, stirring to prevent burning.

Add 1/2 cup of hot chicken stock to the rice and stir until the stock is almost completely absorbed. The mixture will become very thick and dense and when you scrape the bottom of your saucepan with your spoon, the rice will not slide back into place very quickly. At this point, add another 1/2 cup of chicken stock and stir. Repeat this process until the rice is nearly al dente, about 25-30 minutes.

See my note above about stirring. The next part of this recipe can be performed either before you begin the risotto, if you are a "constant stirrer" type, or while you're making the risotto, if you do not believe that you need to be stirring for 30 minutes straight (like me).

The Veggies

Peel and chop the zucchini into 1/4 inch rounds on the diagonal. Heat a small saute pan over medium-high heat and saute the zucchini with a pinch of salt and pepper for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Heat a small saucepan containing 1 inch of water over high heat until boiling. Add the asparagus tips and boil for 2 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain well and set aside.

All Together Now

Once the rice is nearly al dente, add the shelled edamame and stir to mix it in. Gently fold in the asparagus and zucchini. Season with salt and pepper, and allow the risotto to cook another 2-3 minutes so that the vegetables are evenly heated.

Serve the risotto in bowls and garnish with a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley and a sprinkling of lemon zest.

Serves: 2. This recipe can be increased easily by adding 1/4 cup of uncooked rice per person.


Giff Constable said...

I like the addition of edamame

my comfort food? hands down, shepherds pie!

but that, and most of my other comfort foods, go on vacation during the hot summer :)

Kelly said...

oh this looks good. I want to make this dish.

Krysta said...

i make risotto too. it's by far my favorite comfort food.

Aggie said...

Great looking risotto! My comfort food? It's pasta, or homemade margherita pizza, I guess that is the Italian in me!

Found your blog from the Leftover Queen! Great blog - Can't wait to "explore"!

Mr. Rosewater said...

Oh, this risotto looks fantastic. I can't wait to try it. I am one of those that is typically intimidated by risotto, usually because I mess it up so spectacularly. But since my wife is Italian, she has the magic ability to make it come out right each and every time.

Favorite comfort food? For a crappy day, it has to be pizza. Food for a cold, foggy San Francisco day? Has to be either a pot pie, or a thick, hot soup like butternut squash or tomato. Great, now I'm getting hungry.

Tanya said...

Can I come over next time you make risotto??? it is my absolute favorite. Comfort food -- anything salty and crunchy!


Sarah said...

Giff: Shepherds pie is yummy, but it's definitely on my "fall menu!"

Kelly: Thanks!

Krysta: Isn't it funny how comforting it can be? Maybe it's the texture, maybe it's the flavor. I don't know; It's just good!

Aggie: Thanks and welcome! And Margherita pizza, especially on a thin, coal-fired crust, is amazing!

Mr. Rosewater: Your wife MUST teach you! Risotto is so handy. And butternut squash soup sounds really good right now, even with temperatures in the 90's!

Tanya: Yes! Any time!

muddywaters said...

Making a roux always helps me achieve a Zen-like state. All my troubles seem to melt away as the roux darkens. I like how making a roux engages the senses.

As far as comfort foods, I love a good soup paired with a good, hearty, crusty fresh-baked bread. I also love making my own pizza. I gravitate towards carbs when I crave comfort. Baked goods - savory or sweet - are always comforting.