My risotto file is one of my thickest – a testament to my love of risotto. No doubt I fell in love with this marvelous amalgam of rice and vegetables or seafood when I studied with Marcella Hazan back in the 70s and a little later when I went off to Florence, Italy to study with Giuliano Bugialli.
In my latest cookbook Savoring the Hamptons: Discovering the Food and Wine of Long Island’s East End, (Running Press, 2011), I included three seasonal risotto recipes, one each for spring, autumn and winter. I suppose this constant flow of risotto relates to the continuous stirring required for preparing a risotto. One doesn’t have to make risotto every day, but to me, producing one of the world’s greatest dishes should, on occasion, be worth about 25 minutes of one’s time. I don’t believe there is any getting around it and there’s no other way to do it but to stir. What I have always subscribed to when making a risotto is to stir with one hand while sipping a glass of wine with the other.
Risotto is uniquely Italian in that the fundamental component is rice from the Po Valley such as Carnaroli, Arborio or Vialone. The rice varieties contain a thick coating of soft starch, which gradually dissolves in the slow stirring of the cooking process into a creamy fusion of seasonal combination of ingredients, such as asparagus and/or lettuce. Enjoy with that glass of wine!
ASPARAGUS AND LEEK RISOTTO
There is a special kind of rice cultivated only in the River Po Valley in Northern Italy. The grains are oval and pearly in color. This type of rice is cooked so that it gradually absorbs nearly three times its volume in liquid, far more than any other kind of rice.
Serves 4 to 6
3/4 slender asparagus
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large leek, trimmed, washed, thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups Italian Carnaroli, Arborio or Vialone rice
5 ½ to 6 cups hot chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon saffron (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
1. Trim asparagus and break off woody ends where they naturally bend. Wash and rinse asparagus then cut on a slant into pieces about 1 inch long.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a flameproof casserole, such as Le Creuset. Add the asparagus pieces and stir-sauté until they are bright green and slightly tender. Remove asparagus and set aside. Add additional tablespoon oil to casserole then add the leek and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Meanwhile, keep stock simmering in another saucepan. Add saffron to stock if available, and the rice is tender, creamy, and slightly resistant to the bite.
3. Add rice to pan with vegetables and stir to mix. Cook rice, stirring occasionally to coat the grains for a few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle about 1/2 cup of simmering stock to the rice and cook over moderate heat, stirring until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Continue adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time and stir, allowing each addition to be absorbed by the rice before adding more liquid. Continue adding the stock until the rice is tender, creamy, and slightly resistant to the bite. There should be no chalkiness in the center of the grains.
4. Return asparagus to the rice, stir to mix and cook over very low heat for about a minute. Remove from heat and add about 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and stir to mix. Taste to adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately with additional cheese, if desired.
I first tasted la risolata or risotto with romaine lettuce at a restaurant in Florence, Italy. The flavor is remarkable and the idea of a lettuce risotto – interesting!
Here is my adaptation.
Serves 4 to 6
1 large head romaine lettuce
1 medium-size red onion, peeled
2 stalks celery, rinsed and peeled
2 carrots, rinsed and peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups rice, preferably Italian Carnaroli, Arborio or Vialone
6 to 7 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated imported Parmigiano cheese
1. Remove and discard any wilted leaves of romaine. Cut leaves in half lengthwise through the white ribs, discarding the ribs, as they become bitter when cooked. Cut the green leaves into thin strips and soak in a bowl of cold water for 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cut onion, celery and carrot into coarse pieces then chop in a food processor, pulsing the vegetables until finely chopped. Be careful not to turn the mixture to a mush.
3. Heat oil and butter in a flameproof casserole over medium heat and, when butter is melted, add the chopped ingredients. Sauté vegetables for about 5 minutes, until onion is translucent. Drain lettuce, squeeze dry and add it to casserole. Season with salt and pepper, and stir to mix. Cover and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the rice to the casserole and sauté with vegetables for 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Meanwhile bring stock to the edge of a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer and keep warm.
5. Ladle about 1/2 cup simmering stock to the rice and vegetables, stirring continuously. Add remaining stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to allow each addition to be completely absorbed by the rice before adding more liquid. Continue adding stock until the rice is tender, creamy and slightly resistant to the bite. Taste for salt and pepper; then stir in butter and Parmigiano. Serve immediately with additional cheese if desired.
PS: I once substituted a large bunch Swiss chard for the romaine and it was great!
For Silvia’s blog and more recipes visit her website at www.Savoringthehamptons.com