Posts Tagged ‘risotto’

Remembering Italy #3 — asparagus & prosciutto risotto

San Daniele del Friuli is a beautiful little community about 20 kilometers southwest of the big industrial city of Udine, located in the hill country where dry-aged hams are a tradition. Making prosciutto is the principal business of the town – perhaps followed by eating it. Even some of the flower planters in town are in the shape of pigs.

Although the Friulani love their asparagus (see my posts from May 2009), the only time I’ve ever eaten asparagus risotto in Friuli, it was made with white asparagus. The Friulani version was silken and smooth and very pale. Oddly enough, I had often been served cold steamed asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, and Pat and I wondered why we’d never seen a risotto that combined the two. Since we had some extra prosciutto di San Daniele available, I thought I’d see how the delicate ham would be in risotto with Grana Padano, a more understated grating cheese than Parmigiano. Local asparagus isn’t in season, but I was lucky to get some plump, crisp spears that had just come off the plane from Peru.

We were pleased to discover that as long as neither the asparagus nor the prosciutto is overcooked, this recipe makes a risotto in which all the elements — the prosciutto, the cheese, the rice, the asparagus, and the stock — not only retain their individual flavors and identities, they combine into a delicious, harmonious risotto. We’ll certainly be eating it again.

This is another pressure-cooker risotto, but can be made conventionally by steaming the asparagus for five minutes, and cooking the risotto while constantly stirring and adding liquid for 20-25 minutes. If doing it conventionally, you’ll need another half cup of stock.

ASPARAGUS & PROSCIUTTO RISOTTO

Ingredients

1/4 cup strong chicken stock

1 pound asparagus, cleaned and trimmed

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
1 cup strong chicken stock plus reserved liquid from steaming
4 slices prosciutto di San Daniele, cut into 1/4-inch squares
2 oz. Grana Padano cheese, finely grated (about 3/4 unpacked cup)

Directions

1. Place rack in 3.5 liter pressure cooker and add 1/4 cup chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Place asparagus spears on rack, close pressure cooker, and steam 60 seconds. Quick cool pot and remove asparagus. Cut into 1-inch lengths and reserve. Pour off steaming liquid and reserve.

2. Wipe out pot. Add olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft. Add rice and stir well to coat with oil. Turn heat up to high and add wine, stirring constantly until nearly absorbed (about 90 seconds).

3. Add chicken stock and liquid reserved from steaming asparagus; stir well. Secure lid on pressure cooker and bring up to pressure. Cook for 7 minutes before quick-cooling pot to remove lid.

4. Place pot back on low heat and stir. (The risotto should be soupy and the rice slightly too firm.) Add asparagus and prosciutto. Stir to mix thoroughly and continue stirring over low heat for 1 minute.

5. Remove from heat and stir in Grana Padano, blending well.

6. Divide risotto into two 16- to 20-ounce shallow bowls and serve.

14

12 2012

Happy (fizzy) New Year!

Chef Alceo Rapa is not just a great cook — he’s a terrific showman. When David had Rapa’s seafood risotto with Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani at Ristorante da Alceo in Pesaro (Le Marche) last spring, Rapa set off a bottle of spumante as if it were a fountain. The risotto used delectable shrimp from the cold waters seven miles out in the Adriatic along with Grand Marnier, parsley, fish stock, and blood orange juice. At the finish, Rapa added a teaspoon of sugar to the just-opened bottle of sparkling wine, and voila! Happy New Year!

Ristorante da Alceo, Strada Panoramica Ardizio, 119/121 – 61122 Pesaro, Italia. Tel: +39 0721-51360, www.ristorantealceo.it.

31

12 2011

Bites worth standing for

It’s easy to get a good, quick lunch in Rome. Usually we opt for a couple of slices of pizza in whatever pizzeria is closest when we’re hungry. But for even more variety, we sometimes head to a tavola calda—an amazing array of hot and cold dishes ordered at a counter, served up quickly and almost always eaten standing up. One of the best in Rome is found at Franchi (Via Cola di Rienzo 200, tel. 06-68-74-651, www.franchi.it.), which is also one of the city’s most extravagant alimentari (local food stores).

Outside of meal time, this is the spot in the Prati neighborhood to buy sliced cold cuts, cheese, and cooked dishes to take home for dinner. But at lunchtime, the shop is swarmed with office workers (including those from the nearby Prati courthouse) who order from the daily selection of dishes on the tavola calda. The chefs are known for their arancini: breaded and fried balls of risotto drooling with mozzarella inside. But they also make other good things, such as a cold rice salad studded with shrimp and layered with slices of cured salmon, deep-fried cod fillets, oven-roasted vegetables drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, creamy pools of polenta and melted cheese, manicotti….

The scene is a bit chaotic. You place your order, return to the cashier to pay, grab a tray and wait for your food, then hope you can score a tall table or bit of counter space to balance your food while you eat standing up. (Be careful who you elbow aside—the courthouse guards are packing.) Our last visit was a reward for shuffling in the long and pointless lines to visit St. Peter’s. We needed the break before plunging into the crowds at the Vatican museums. The rice balls did not disappoint, the slice of lasagna was as good as any we’ve eaten in a white linen dining room, and the slab of polenta was rich and cheesy.

19

06 2011

What to buy in an Italian grocery store

Since so many of the regional Italian cuisines are based on food that is fresh, fresh, fresh, we’re limited in what we can bring back home. But there are some dry goods and conserves that turn out to be very useful in cooking Italian dishes. We’ve learned not to bother with colored pastas, which cook up to a gray mess anyway, because we can buy good imported dry pasta for about the same price we’d pay for it in Italy.

Here’s our Italian grocery list:

AnchoviesAnchovies.
Many Americans think they don’t like anchovies because they have never tasted good ones used with the restraint characteristic of Italian recipes. We look for anchovies packed in glass jars so we can make sure they are firm and whole. We also check the jar for an expiration date several months in the future.

Dried mushrooms.
Dried fungi, especially dried porcini mushrooms, are central to a number of pastas and risottos. Alas, purchasing in an Italian market doesn’t provide much of a price break over buying in US gourmet import stores, but because Italian cooks use a lot of dried mushrooms, the shelf stock is always fresh. Even dry, porcini should remain flexible.

RicesRice.
We buy arborio for most risottos, but always get some vialone nano for seafood risottos, and Roma for Roman rice dishes. They’re all strains of short-grained, oval rice. The less expensive riso originale (the more generic mother strain) is a good choice for soups or arancini, but we rarely buy it unless we have a lot of room left in the suitcase. The same one-kilo box of vialone nano we buy in Italy for two euros is nearly $15 in the U.S.

Bouillon cubes.
Bouillon cubes and soup bases differ from country to country-even the international brands like Knorr. Those sold in the Italian markets are seasoned to Italian taste, and work very well as a backup for having your own homemade stock. We like the Starr brand, especially the porcini mushroom bouillon cubes.

Mushroom salad.
Jarred marinated mushrooms provide an instant antipasto. We generally look for mixed “woods” mushrooms for variety of colors and shapes. Fior di Bosco is a good choice.

Tomato pasteTomato paste in a tube.
Often ridiculously expensive at home, the tubes of double-concentrated Italian tomato paste are a perfect solution for providing just a touch of tomato to a soup or a sauce. The flavor is typically richer and a little sweeter than canned tomato paste.

Herbs.
There are few dried herbs used in Italian cooking that we can’t buy at home, but we like the aromatic sweetness of Italian oregano for seasoning sauces and salads.

Salt.
Like the Spaniards, the Italians typically use sea salt to season their food, though their salt is usually more refined than the Spanish. Italian processed sea salt is usually found in both fino and grosso (fine and coarse). The coarse salt is intended for oven-roasting fish or meat, but can do double duty in a salt grinder.

MostardaMostarda de la Cremona.
The great cookbook author (and all-around generous soul) Michele Scicolone turned us on to this conserve of small fruits poached in sugar syrup until they become nearly translucent. A secondary seasoning with mustard syrup gives the mostarda a sweet-savory quality similar to a chutney, but even more beautiful to serve with a bollito misto (a ring of mixed meats). You can buy it in bulk at deli counters as pictured, but mostardas are also sold in jars (easier to take home).

18

12 2009

Making grilled asparagus risotto

Grilled asparagus risotto

Grilled asparagus risotto

Before we bought a pressure cooker, asparagus risotto was one of the few risottos we would bother to make because it’s smoky, luscious, and deeply satisfying. It also pairs nicely with a crisp white wine like a Vermentino from Sardinia. It had become one of our go-to quick dishes, in part because every time we light up the backyard grill, we grill some asparagus, making sure we have enough for dinner and enough left over to chop into salads and to make grilled asparagus risotto. This 2-serving recipe evolved rather radically from the version of non-roasted, non-pressure-cooked asparagus risotto made by Fanny Singer that we found in a 2003 issue of Food & Wine. Cooking time is about 10 minutes—quick food, not fast food.


Ingredients

olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme finely minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
1 1/4 cups strong chicken stock
1/2 pound leftover grilled asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cups chopped baby spinach leaves (about 3 oz.)
2 oz. Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (about 3/4 unpacked cup)
balsamic vinegar for drizzling


Directions
1. In medium-sized pressure cooker, heat oil and sauté onions and thyme until onions are soft. Add rice and stir well to coat.
2. Turn heat up to high and add wine, stirring constantly until nearly absorbed (about 90 seconds).
3. Add chicken stock and stir well. Secure lid on pressure cooker and bring up to pressure. Cook for 7 minutes before quick-cooling pot to remove lid.
4. Place pot back on low heat and stir. (The risotto should be soupy and the rice slightly too firm. Add asparagus and spinach. Stir to mix thoroughly and continue stirring over low heat 90 seconds-2 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, blending well..
6. Divide risotto into two 16-20 ounce shallow bowls. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve.

11

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