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September 02, 2009

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Mike Tommasi

Hi Nancy, I love your blog!

I could not resist commenting on risotto. True there are no "right ways" to make anything, but...
1) risotto does not need cream, this is something the french do all the time to italian cooking, which does not use cream at all. Vialone, Arborio, Carnaroli and all japonica rices have naturally creamy starch that does not need any help! :-)
2) you do not need to taste for doneness, just cook risotto for 14-16 minutes if you like the kernels firm, 18-20 minutes if you like it softer. You can make it sloshy or dry by adjusting the amount of stock you add. At the beginning, heat some very finely chopped onion in the oil, but do not let them brown. Do not brown the rice either, just heat enough to get the onions and the rice to look transparent.
3) for Japan: risotto with Koshihikari (Uonuma), Hitomibore, Akitakomachi and other local rices work fine, I have tested at least these three varieties. In Japan people usually rinse the rice abundantly before cooking, you should NOT so this for risotto, or you may... need cream to keep it creamy :-)

I think cooking should be free from dogma and rigid rules, even recipes are tyrannical, but once you give something a name like "risotto" there are some minimal rules to be observed :-)))) Otherwise you get risotto with cream, polenta flavoured with cheese, spaghetti carbonara with onions and cream, ragù alla bolognese flooded in tomato sauce, tortellini with cream, and similar "deviant" dishes... ;-)

je t'embrasse

Mike

preeva tramiel

The risotto looks great! How do you think it would work with zucchini?

Nancy Singleton Hachisu

Mike is absolutely correct that risotto does not normally use cream. (By the way, Mike is an Italian/Canadian friend who lives in the south of France and is not only trilingual, but also knows his stuff when it comes to food and wine—I should have known better than to challenge that knowledge base.)

But, I’ll tell you a funny story about the “risotto” method I use. Like I said, I’m lazy. That recipe was the first one I used to make risotto and I never bothered looking at others because it seemed so self-evident. The original recipe actually was from Gourmet Magazine and…it came from a restaurant or inn in the Milano Lake District. So, it’s not just the French, some of those renegade Italians are putting a little cream in their “risotto.” From what I can glean, Lombardy may let a little cream slide into the dish. In this case, or if extra butter or cheese are added it is called “risotto mantecato.” But, let’s wait for Mike to weigh in on that one. Also, I asked Gourmet to get back to me on the provenance of the recipe as I couldn’t find that issue.

The original recipe was a Zucchini Blossom Risotto made with chopped onions & rice sautéed in a combination of butter and olive oil (I think); white wine + vegetable stock + cream + vegetable stock. I would imagine the zucchini blossoms were sautéed lightly and then folded in with the Parmesan cheese at the end. There may have been a last minute butter addition involved. I’m guessing the cream was used for flavor and not for “creaminess.” The herb broth and the zucchini blossoms are very delicate, so the cream would add some luscious element. Though admittedly not orthodox.

And to answer your question Preeva, yes this risotto (or any risotto) is wonderful with zucchini.

Mike, thanks for setting me straight. I guess the mozzarella and Parmesan in the polenta torta was another no-no? You’ll be relieved that I don’t put onions (or cream) in my carbonara, though Tadaaki makes the noodles, so it’s more likely linguini carbonara. And we definitely don’t wash the risotto rice, though I had a tiff with Tadaaki on that.

Question: I make my bastard risotto in the largest Le Creuset. It fills about ¾ of the pot by the time the risotto is done. I use more than a liter scoop of rice. Don’t you think the cooking time will depend on the heaviness of the pot and the amount of liquid one wants to incorporate? I need to make vegetarian risotto for one of my teachers, so I’ve switched over to only herb & vegetable stock. I still think I’ll stick with a dollop of cream over a heavy stock or meat additions. But that’s me, a rebel all the way around. Can I call it “risotto mantecato” or should I just go with “creamy rice” and be done with it?

Moi aussi, je t’embrasse. A l’année prochaine, j’espère.--Nancy

Mike Tommasi

Ha, I knew I would come across as "psychorigide" as they might say around here... :-)

Many italians, especially the type that you would definitely class as "bourgeois" in the strict sense, are in awe of the French when it comes to cuisine :-) In the 70s the famous recipe book Il Cucchiaio d'Argento was entirely colonized by creams, bechamels and transalpine sauces (I have such an edition). Tortellini alla panna, fettuccine alfredo are not part of any tradition; there are no laws against this, but tortellini were invented as something to be consumed in a broth, and the cream thing is from another planet :-)

Many italian recipes today are thus "modernized". Traditions should never be fixed in stone or they become fossilized, they must evolve with the times, but in an intelligent way. I am not sure what that means, but to be clearer, adding balsamic everywhere, in France as in Italy, is not an example of culinary intelligence. Polenta is by definition something neutral that becomes delicious when soaking up the juices of the meat, it is served with venison, or in Venice with baccalà or shrimp. Flavouring it is a bit like flavouring potatoes - other than perhaps at most a little touch of herbs or spice, it makes no sense to an Italian.

Regarding risotto timing, quantity or pot thickness or amount of liquid would not change the timing, the liquid is in all cases around 100°C, and cooking time determines the "al dente" quality of the kernels. The amount of liquid would determine the sloshiness ("all'onda") of the risotto. All combinations are possible:
BAD:
- wet all'onda sloshy risotto of mushy rice kernels (use as wallpaper paste)
- dry firm risotto of mushy rice kernels (use as modelling clay)
GOOD:
- wet all'onda sloshy risotto of al dente rice kernels
- dry firm risotto of al dente rice kernels

And yes, "mantecato" refers to making it a little more creamy by adding a little butter at the end. Typically once you have completed the required cooking time, take it off the stove, add the butter if you like it that way, and in any case let it sit in the pot for a couple of minutes before serving, that is always good. If you put cream instead of butter, that's fine, I will not report you to the risotto police. :-))))

ZUCCHINI ? Well yes, that is a very good choice, I often make it that way. Almost anything goes in risotto, all vegetables, plus sausage meat, bacon, fish, shrimp, squid, strawberries, you name it. Whatever you put in it, think about how long it needs to cook for, and add at the appropriate time (see celery example below).

The basic risotto has only parmigiano reggiano cheese it, no vegetables. All risotto is finished with parmigiano reggiano once the cooking has finished, except for seafood risotto - Italians never mix dairy products with seafood, they find this positively revolting, it is a genetic thing I think :-)

I often make it with very finely sliced celery stalks (heat with the onions right at the start) and I add celery leaves about 5 minutes before the end.

In Venice people add peas and bacon bits, or fish, or any seafood. With squid or cuttlefish, you can keep the ink from the ink sacks and make black risotto.

What I do when baking fish in the oven: I keep all the bits left over (head, bones) and make a stock, keeping any nice bits of meat aside, then make a fish risotto the next day, maybe adding some prawns.

baci

Mike

preeva tramiel

Thanks, Mike and Nancy,
We live for Reggiano Parmesan in this house.
I have a zucchini and lots of green beans and corn is in season and I have a nice crop of small but sweet "Sungold" tomatoes.

Oh, and Mike, flavored potatoes are something I grew up on, being part Hungarian--Potatoes Paprikash!

Rodney Fong

I know I tend to indulge both my son Harrison and my wife when it comes to food. I don't try to experiment much with my cooking and I tend to keep things to the simpler side, since I don't have much time to cook after coming home from my office. It is when we go out to eat that Harrison will tend to drift to kid food like mac and cheese, no matter what restaurant. But we went to a gourmet restaurant the other night and he had a risotto dish that was simply fantastic. I think your risotto recipe may be one that I sneak in to the otherwise routine cuisine. Thanks, Nance.

Nancy Singleton Hachisu

"Psychorigide"--great word Mike. When it comes to food, you've got to speak out. Thanks again.

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