Sunday, February 23, 2014

Risotto with red wine

Were I a rich man, the headline above would read quite differently. "Risotto al Barolo" it would properly state, meaning that I (or maybe my private chef) had closely followed tradition by cracking open a bottle of perhaps Italy's most prestigious wine, poured it into a hot pan, and then watched it all evaporate!

I appreciate traditional cooking methods as much, if not more, than the next guy. But sorry, not gonna happen.

For this more modest version of the classic dish of the Piedmont region, I did use the proper grape, however: a Nebbiolo, which is the grape that is used to make Barolo. The bottle still set me back better than $20, but I'm cool with that. Cooking a $125 Barolo? Not so much.

This risotto is one of my favorites, actually. If you haven't yet tried it, I highly recommend giving it a go. With whatever decent red wine you're comfortable with evaporating.

Melt 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan.

Add one very finely chopped large onion (or an equivalent amount of shallots) and saute under medium heat until softened but not browned.

Stir in 2.5 cups of Vialone Nano rice (or Carnaroli, Arborio, Baldo, or another risotto rice if you prefer) and allow the rice to warm all the way through. It's all right to "toast" the rice as well, meaning allow it to brown just a bit.

Stir in 3/4 cups of a good-quality red wine. As I said before, I used a Nebbiolo, but any good dry red should be fine.

On days that I know I'll be making risotto I always make sure to prepare plenty of homemade chicken stock (go with vegetable stock to keep this vegetarian). I keep a pot of simmering stock on the stovetop as I'm making the risotto; that way it's already at a high temperature when it's added to the rice. After the wine has evaporated, add a ladleful or two of your hot stock. In all, you'll probably need around 8-10 cups of stock to make the risotto, so make sure to have more than that on hand. I never use a store-bought stock to make risotto, either. It's better this way, and you can freeze whatever homemade stock that you don't use. Besides, having a stock going makes the house smell good for hours and hours, so why deprive yourself of such pleasure?

Stir the mixture occasionally, and each time the stock has evaporated add another ladleful. At around the 12-minute mark start to pull back on how much stock you add, because you don't want the risotto to be soupy. (If the risotto isn't looking as colorful as you'd like, you can add more wine with the stock.) After around 15 minutes, check to see if the rice is nearly cooked; it ought to be. Stop adding more stock and allow whatever liquid that remains to gradually evaporate. The rice should be al dente, not soft.

This cooked for around 17 minutes total, from the time the first couple ladles of stock were added. As you can see, the risotto is moist but not dry.

Turn down the heat to low and add around 5 tablespoons of cold butter that's been cut into small cubes. Stir the butter into the rice very quickly.

Once the butter has melted add around a cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the risotto immediately, topped with a little more grated cheese.

Oh, and if there does happen to be a nice bottle of Barolo in the vicinity, well, now might be a good time to crack it open. It's gotta get drunk sometime, right?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Almond & tomato pesto

Not all pesto is green, you know.

This Pesto Trapanese, from the town of Trapani in Sicily, is adapted from the recipe in Giorgio Locatelli's "Made in Sicily." I was tasked with doing the pasta course for a dinner a few evenings ago, and this wound up being a pretty big hit.

It doesn't get much easier than this, either. All we're talking about is almonds, fresh tomatoes, garlic and mint (yes, mint, not basil). The only thing that's cooked is the pasta.

Lightly toast around 1/2 cup of almonds in a 350 degree F oven for several minutes, then chop.

Mix the chopped almonds with four garlic cloves and either pound together using a mortar and pestle or run through a food processor. I did a little of both here, and made sure not to make the mixture too fine. If you prefer things smoother, even completely smooth, that's okay too; just run it through the food processor longer.

In a mixing bowl place the almond/garlic mix, 1/2 cup of finely chopped fresh mint (Locatelli's recipe calls for three times that amount of mint), around 1 pound of skinned and diced fresh tomatoes, and a good hit of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Incorporate all the ingredients and then stir in around 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Be sure to use a good quality oil. Since the pesto isn't cooked the flavor of the oil is important.

Mix the pesto with your pasta of choice (this is homemade fettuccine). And don't discard all of your (well-salted) pasta water, because you may need to add some of it to the pasta if it's a little too dry. After plating top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano and serve.

FOR MORE RECIPES: Click here for my Pasta Recipe Index; click here for the Vegetarian Recipe Index.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Vegetarian Recipe Index

Below are all of the vegetarian recipes that appear on this blog. Just click on a link and you'll be taken to the recipe you're after. Every time a new vegetarian recipe is added to the blog it will be added to this list, which appears at the right of the homepage under "Search Vegetarian Recipes." Please note that in some instances I may have used anchovy as an ingredient; it may be easily eliminated in order to meet vegetarian requirements.


Corn soup

Chickpea & cabbage soup



Tomato risotto

Grilled radicchio & mozzarella

Stuffed artichokes

Stuffed mushrooms

Eggs poached in tomato sauce

Zucchini fritters

Roasted eggplant parmigiana

Old school eggplant parmigiana

Stuffed eggplant

Potatoes & eggs

Onions & eggs

Peppers & eggs

Zucchini & eggs

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Lamb & chickpea ragu

When a person works very hard, and for many hours, solely to produce a product that will make me happy, well, the least that I can do is cook the poor woman some dinner.

Shyster Jersey Lawyer Friend went above and beyond this past Christmas. Way, way, way above and beyond. She showed up at the house one day with a box big enough to accommodate a goose down parka. Except that it was packed with Sicilian fig cookies!

If you know these cookies (cucidati as they are known in Italy) then you appreciate how much work goes into making them. Most people make sure to have plenty of helping hands around on "cucidati day," but Shy went it alone. Which explains the note that accompanied her extraordinary gift: "I love you Meatball," it said. "But never again!!!"

And so when my friend came over for dinner the other evening I made certain to prepare a meal that incorporated some of her very favorites: lamb, chickpeas, and homemade pasta.

This is around 1.5 pounds of well-trimmed lamb shoulder, which I've cut into cubes and liberally seasoned with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Lightly dredge the seasoned lamb in all-purpose flour.

In a medium size dutch oven sear the lamb in a good amount of olive oil, then remove to a plate and set aside.

Add 1.5 cups of a good quality red wine (I used an inexpensive Nero d'Avola). Turn the heat up to high and reduce until much of the wine has evaporated and what's left of the liquid is somewhat thickened.

Add 3 tablespoons of butter.

Add 2 chopped celery stalks, 4 chopped carrots, 1 chopped large onion, 6 chopped garlic cloves, and a healthy dose of fresh rosemary and thyme.

After the vegetables have softened stir in 2 or 3 tablespoons of tomato paste.

Then add 4 cups of chicken stock.

Return the lamb to the pot, stir it into the liquid, and simmer slowly, not at a rapid boil.

Around 30 minutes after adding the lamb toss in a (drained) 15-ounce can of chickpeas, and continue to simmer slowly for another hour (making the total simmering time around 90 minutes). Season to taste.

Some people may choose to skip the addition of chickpeas. If you are among those, rest assured that the ragu is just fine without them, and with no furher changes to the recipe.

Personally, I really like having the chickpeas in there. Shy seemed to enjoy them as well. Which, on this particular evening, was all that really mattered to me.

Wonder if it'll help score me some more fig cookies next Christmas.