Posts Tagged ‘pressure cooker’

Seeking pressure at home

Kuhn-Rikon 3.5 liter pressure cooker

Kuhn-Rikon 3.5 liter pressure cooker

We love risottos, but always saved them for special occasions because they were so time consuming. But Anna Maria Andreola had demonstrated in her home kitchen in Venice that it was feasible to make great risottos in a pressure cooker in almost no time. We were eager to try it at home.

Finding the right pressure cooker wasn’t easy. Most pressure cookers in we saw in Venetian and U.S. kitchenware stores were lightweight, flimsy aluminum pots. Many U.S. shops didn’t carry them at all. “They’re dangerous,” clerks told us. “They explode!”

To which we say, “bah” and “humbug.” We’ve been using a venerable Presto pressure canner for years (David bought it in 1970) to process sauces and vegetables from the garden, and even to occasionally cook corned beef. With both a weight that releases excess pressure and a safety valve that blows out if the steam vent is clogged, it’s a model of safety. (And, yes, we’ve blown out the safety valve a few times. It’s quick and easy to replace.) More modern models use slightly different mechanisms, but every one we’ve found for sale has at least two ways to avoid explosion.

Our problem was finding a pressure cooker with a more reasonable capacity (8 quarts is too large to make risotto for two), an alloy base to promote even heating for searing or sauteeing, and a surface finish that would minimize stuck food.

We finally discovered it at a kitchen store in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills: the 3.5-liter Anniversary model made by Kuhn Rikon (www.kuhnrikon.com). It’s widely available from web merchants, but actually handling the pot convinced us to buy it. The balance is perfect, and the locking lid is an easy and smooth fit.

09

11 2009

Pressure cooker artichoke risotto

Castraure, or baby artichokes

Castraure, or baby artichokes

We’d always thought of making risotto as a laborious process that required standing at the stove and stirring for nearly half an hour, sometimes with disappointing results.

Not for Anna Maria Andreola, the pressure cooker queen of Venice.

Earlier in the day, we’d gone together to the Rialto market and bought gorgeous baby artichokes, which we trimmed as Anna Maria talked us through the risotto she was going to make. She sauteed the trimmed artichokes for three minutes in the open pressure cooker with a clove of minced garlic and a splash of olive oil. Then she added a teacup (about a half cup or 110 grams) of arborio rice per serving, and dumped in a half wine-glass of white wine and stirred. Once the wine had mostly evaporated, she added water to cover and fastened the lid on the pressure cooker.

It took about a minute to reach full pressure. Five minutes later, she quick-cooled the pot under the cold tap and opened it.

Artichoke risotto

Artichoke risotto

She stirred in a dollop of butter, a dribble of milk and a handful of grated Grana Padano cheese. In ten minutes from start to finish, we had a luscious artichoke risotto. The rice was perfectly al dente, the artichokes retained their integrity, and the dish was as creamy as any hand-stirred risotto we’ve ever eaten.

It was a revelation.

08

11 2009

Cucina Italiana moderna

Anna Maria cooks rombo in her Venice kitchen.

Anna Maria cooks rombo in her Venice kitchen.

Anna Maria Andreola’s kitchen at Le Mansarde B&B in Venice was not what we expected, especially in a lovingly maintained but traditional old stone palazzo that wore its two centuries proudly. The aroma of fresh bread greeted us at the door. She had dumped all the ingredients into a high tech bread machine that morning and set the timer so bread would be ready for dinner. Right next to the breadmaker stood her universal kitchen machine that weighs, processes and slow-cooks food. (It also serves as a mixer and a blender.) The counter also held a juicer and an electric ice cream freezer.

Silly us. We’d been expecting a big stove and nothing else.

We should have been prepared for the Italian predilection for kitchen gadgetry. Remember: These are the people who invented the classic espresso machines with their array of dials and levers. They also make much of the industrial food-processing machinery from giant cooking vats to wine-bottling lines. What’s a few appliances?

But Anna Maria’s favorite piece of kitchen equipment didn’t have a plug. It was the pressure cooker, and she preached its gospel like a late-night TV pitchman. Not only does it cut cooking time, she said, it also conserves flavors and vitamins. “I do everything with it,” she said, seeing our skepticism. “I would have had my children in the pressure cooker if I could have.”

07

11 2009

Epiphany in Venice

Crossing Gran Canal on a traghetto

Crossing the Grand Canal on a traghetto

Venice changed our lives. Really. More exactly, it changed the way we eat. After a week of cruising the Venetian lagoon on a rental houseboat, we spent several days in the city, staying with Anna Maria Andreola at the B&B in her family’s 18th century Cannaregio palazzo. (It’s called Le Mansarde, but has no web site. Contact Anna Maria Andreola at 011-39-041-718-826 or [mobile] 011-39-338-868-8935. Her email is cazzar.ola@libero.it.) One day she took us shopping and showed us how to make a Venetian meal.

From the B&B on Rio Tera San Leonardo, we headed straight to the Grand Canal and boarded a “traghetto,” a bare-bones gondola that crisscrosses the canal and saves walking long distances to a bridge. Anna Maria led us into Venice’s great Rialto market complex, armed only with a shopping trolley (basically a shopping bag on wheels). We could have spent hours just taking pictures of the pristine fish and meat and the colorful fruits and vegetables, but we were on a mission.

Rialto fish market

Rialto fish market

Anna Maria had been thinking about veal as the main course for dinner, but as soon as she spotted rombo (a kind of flounder) at her favorite fishmonger, a different menu began to take shape. With two filleted fish in hand, we strolled into the produce section and gathered cherry tomatoes to accompany the flounder. Tiny strawberries from the lagoon islands got her excited. “We’ll make ice cream,” she said. Then she found the best prize of all: a small basket labeled “castraure.” They were small, purplish baby artichokes, also from the islands.

“Risotto!” she exclaimed.

05

11 2009