Today I’m making risotto.
I’m on this kick, again, as I do every year at this time, where I try to use up whatever is lingering in the freezer. The garden is started, but not producing quite yet, and the farmer’s market is basically greens and storage vegetables. It’s a tough time of year money wise, and it generally seems like a great time to use up what we have before the influx of fresh stuff from the garden and our annual meat purchase in May.
Regardless, I was tempted into buying mushrooms at the farmer’s market on Saturday and I couldn’t figure out what to do with them. I thought I would use them in context with one of the various odd cuts of meat in the freezer, but I kept pondering and pondering and kept coming back to the same conclusion. Risotto. Mushroom risotto.
I love making risotto because it’s slow and involved and rich. It feels like making the most decadent dish I could imagine. I have to stand over the stove (usually listening to an audiobook) for nearly an hour. Something about it is just soothing. Tonight I decided to try something new, mushroom risotto using brandy instead of the usual white wine.
Typically, when making risotto, the process is the same. You toast the rice (Arborio rice is a must) in a little melted butter, then deglaze the pan with white wine, then slowly add very hot stock (chicken or otherwise) a little at a time, stirring constantly. At the end you add a little cheese. There are of course variations. You can add vegetables in with the rice at the beginning, as I did tonight (mushrooms and onions), you can use any variety of white wine, and, who knew, you can apparently use brandy. It gave a little extra richness to the flavor. That could have also been because I used ham stock. Lately I’ve been making stock out of ANYTHING I have bones from. I made ham stock, partridge stock, rabbit stock, it’s a thing. The handsome fella is completely confused by the odd labeling system I’ve used to distinguish the jars in the freezer.
In searching for a mushroom risotto recipe I also came across a fun fact. Apparently, there is actual science behind the making of risotto (of course). The reason you toast the rice before adding the liquid is that there is a starch coating on the outside of the rice kernel. Toasting breaks up that starchy layer. Then, when you first deglaze the pan with alcohol and follow that up with hot meat stock, you are further sloughing off that layer of starch. That is the basis of the creamy “sauce” that essentially forms while making risotto. Who knew! I love science. And cooking.
But as I started saying, there is something really beautiful and meditative about making risotto. Just the fact that you are glued to the stove, stirring, for such a long time, means that you are completely focused on the dish. You should not make risotto while attempting to wash dishes, for example, which is what I often do while making dinner. It feels like a luxury. It feels like a getaway, a journey, a trip to a place where it is totally ok to just stand over your stove for an hour, cooking. I wish I could say I did that all the time, but usually while cooking I am also cleaning, working, catching up on emails, etc. It’s not often a centered activity.
But risotto! It’s somewhere in the realm of artistic expression. You can lose yourself in the steam, and find your center.
Plus, it’s delicious.
Favorite variations on risotto? Internet?