Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Food Which Scares Me

My cooking demons are breads and risotto, two items I just haven't been able to garner up the gumption to try. Any recipe that involves yeast just plain frightens me. Consequently, I have a recipe for whole wheat pizza crust (which would just be the icing on the cake for the pizzas I so enjoy making) that has languished as I warily read it every few weeks and then shudder when I get to the part about active yeast. Maybe someday...

Risotto is a dish I adore. The best I've tried so far was at a trendy cafe on Washington Avenue in South Beach (the place, not the diet. I've had it at a few other places, and have wanted to try my own hand at it, but I've heard it can be difficult to get the right consistency, and that stirring it can be a serious test of patience. I only recently found out that its made with chicken broth, a distressing revelation for a vegetarian to hear. I know I've had chicken broth countless times without being aware of it, and for that reason I feel strongly that its use as an ingredient should be listed on menus. After all, how is a vegetarian to know? Who would assume that a rice dish is made with invisible meat?

A few weeks ago I came across a recipe for risotto made in a microwave. It should be noted that, though I have had a microwave oven for 13 years (the same one, no less), I only use mine for making popcorn, and for the occasional reheating of leftovers for lunch. I can't come up with any other uses for it. I've heard of people who actually cook with theirs, but that just seems crazy.

I came across this recipe in a recent AJC Food Section for which the cover story was, of all things, Microwave Cooking. The risotto recipe was credited to Microwave Gourmet by Barbara Kafka. After all my fears of making risotto, this little snippet made me think it was worth a try: "Barbara Kafka said this risotto recipe is easier to make in the microwave than on the stovetop because there is much less stirring."

Basic Risotto
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter (I only had salted butter on hand and assumed it would be okay - I was wrong - the dish came out too salty)
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced yellow onion
  • 1 cup arborio rice (it took me two stores before I found this)
  • 3 cups chicken broth (whatever - I used vegetable broth instead)
  • 2 tsps kosher salt (obviously, when using salted butter, do not also add this salt)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese
  1. Heat butter and oil in an uncovered glass casserole dish in the microwave for 2 minutes.
  2. Add onion; stir to coat. Cook for 4 minutes.
  3. Add rice; stir to coat. Cook another 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in broth. Cook for 9 minutes.
  5. Stir well and cook for 9 minutes more.
  6. Remove from oven. Let stand 5 minutes to let rice absorb remaining liquid, stirring several times.
  7. Stir in salt, pepper and cheese.

I tried this recipe today and loved it. It was too salty when cooked with salted butter, but if I had followed the directions to begin with, I might not have found myself in that predicament. It was wonderful to find out that risotto can be just as flavorful (if not more so) when cooked with vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Even The Carnivore agreed that it turned out great, other than the annoying over-saltiness. I now can't wait to try some more complicated risotto recipes.

I served the risotto with Corn Four Ways, a fun and spicy, if not slightly odd, recipe I pulled out of an old issue of Vegetarian Times.

Corn Four Ways

  • 2 tbs vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
  • 1 lb tube polenta
  • 1 can hominy, drained
  • 1 can corn kernels, drained
  • 1 can whole baby corn (love that stuff), drained
  • 1.5 tbs chili powder
  • 1/2 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
  • Juice of 1 lime
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet (I prefer cast iron, of course) over medium heat (I have a gas stove and thus use low heat).
  2. Slice polenta into 8 circles, and when oil is hot, pan fry on each side for 3 to 4 minutes, or until browned. Remove from skillet and arrange circles side by side on individual plates.
  3. Add hominy, corn kernels and baby corn to skillet. Sprinkle with chili powder and cheese, and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, or until heated through and cheese has melted.
  4. To serve, spoon equal amounts of corn mixture on plates over polenta circles. Sprinkle with lime juice.

The corn dish is pretty spicy, so the uninitiated (read: wimpy) might want to use a little less chili powder. This dish makes a beautiful presentation, mainly due to the chili powder though, so it would be a shame to sacrifice beauty for comfort here.

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