Risotto with Pork Shanks

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On the last season of Masterchef US, season 10, the 4th runner up went home. His name is Noah Sims and he was a favorite. What sent him home was a risotto topped with venison loin. The venison was overcooked, unfortunately for him, but what sent him home was a profound learning experience to me.

Risotto is a dish. It is a meal. It can be enhanced with an endless number of ingredients, from mushrooms to tomatoes and squash, and seasoned accordingly. It also can be served with protein of just about any kind, for a more involved meal. However, the protein is a separate dish from the risotto.

So, you have risotto, and the added protein, and according to Joe Bastianich, the son of Italian cuisine expert Lidia Bastianich, something has to tie them together. Otherwise it’s like serving a chili dog on a plate of cacio de pepe. (not his quote.) Two completely different dishes.

What Mr. Bastianich suggested was that if Noah had been able to prepare a venison stock to use in the risotto, the overall meal would have worked.

I found this to be quite revelatory. Because although my husband doesn’t mind, I’ve put just about any kind of meat or seafood over his risotto. Now, they have to “go” together. Now I know.

So I created this risotto dish topped with braised pork chops in order to use pork broth in the risotto. Start in the morning, and don’t plan on serving the dish until the next day.

Braised Pork Shanks
4 servings

4 – 1 1/2 pound Berkshire pork shanks
Salt
Pepper
Grapeseed oil, about 1/4 cup total
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
3 cups white wine
3 cups chicken broth
Parsley
Bay leaves
Rosemary branch
Thyme branch
Sprig of sage

Begin by coating the pork with a generous amount of salt and pepper.


Heat the grapeseed oil in a heavy cast-iron pot over high heat. Brown the tops and bottoms of all four shanks, one at a time.

After browning, place the shanks in a large, deep and heavy pot, like a Le Creuset; set aside.

Turn down the heat under the pot to medium. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the onion, celery, and carrots for about 5 minutes, stirring up all of that meaty goodness.

Stir in the garlic for a minute, then add the wine and broth.

Add all of the herbs to the pot with the broth. Heat up the liquid in the pot, uncovered, and cook for 30 minutes. Then cover the pot well and cook for 30 more minutes.

Let the liquid cool enough to handle the pot, then strain the liquid through a fine colander into the pot with the shanks. Add more wine or broth if necessary. The meat should just be covered.

At this point you can check the seasoning. The broth should be rich with flavor.

Place the pot over a medium-high heat and simmer the shanks for 2 1/2 hours. Turn the shanks over halfway through cooking.

When you’re ready to collect the pork broth and proceed with the risotto, remove the shanks and place in a baking dish. Cover with foil to keep warm.

Taste the broth. If it’s watery, spend at least 30-45 minutes reducing it. Store it in a pourable pot, then make the risotto (recipe below).

Risotto served with Braised Pork Shanks
4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
12 ounces arborio rice, about 2 cups
Pork broth, about 4-5 cups
Salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, and saute the shallots for a few minutes. Add the rice and stir until all of the grains are lightly coated with the oil.

Gradually begin adding the pork broth to the risotto. This whole process should take about 45 minutes; stir constantly.

Season to your taste. At the end of cooking, I added just a little bit of cream, but this is optional.

For seasoning the risotto, if you want it more “fun,” think about adding some dried thyme, or mushroom powder, or even tomato powder or tomato paste.

The risotto already pairs with the pork shanks because of the lovely rich broth used in it, but you can be a little more creative with the risotto.

To prepare the risotto and pork shank dish, place half of the risotto on a pasta bowl, and top with a warm pork shank. I brushed a little of the broth over the pork so it was nice and moist.

I added some chopped parsley for a little color, and served the meal with a simple green salad.

The pork is so moist, and tender like pulled pork. And flavorful.

And the risotto? Superb. Even with very little fat, the pork broth really created a rich-tasting risotto.

And if you don’t want to deal with the whole shank on your risotto, you can cut it up first, and serve warm over the risotto, like you would short ribs.

But the whole pork shank does make a pretty presentation!

Tomato Mushroom Risotto

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Risotto is one of those dishes that I love to make because I never make it the same way. It’s what I love to do as a cook – improvise!

Typically I use butter, aromatics, wine, broth, and finish with cream and/or cheese.

But the add-in options are practically endless. I’ve used chopped tomatoes, grated zucchini, pesto, canned pumpkin, and carrot juice. It all works. I’ve even made risotto with Thai flavors. Who says risotto must only have Italian flavors? Well, some people might, but I’m 63% Italian, so I stand my ground.

There are two reasons that this risotto is unique. One reason is that I’m using tomato powder.

I posted a while back on a book called The Spice Companion, and in it I learned how to make a powder simply from oven-dried tomatoes.


The other special ingredient is mushroom powder, which is a seasoned mixture of ground dried mushrooms. I found the recipe on Tandy Sinclair’s blog called Lavender and Lime.

I didn’t follow her recipe exactly, shown below, only because Tandy included rosemary and thyme and I wanted the mushroom powder more generic in flavor.

My version had garlic pepper, black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne pepper plus salt in a variety of wild dried mushrooms that I ground using a dry blender jar.

So here’s how I made this risotto.

Tomato Mushroom Risotto

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely diced
1 1/4 cup Arborio rice
Big splash of Riesling or Pinot Gris or Graves
Chicken broth, mildly flavored, approx. 2 1/2 cups
1 heaping tablespoon tomato powder
1 tablespoon mushroom powder
Salt, to taste
Grated Parmesan, optional

Heat butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add shallots and sauté slowly; don’t allow much browning.

Add the rice and stir well for a minute. All of the grains should be coated with butter.

Add some wine and stir in well.

Then begin adding the broth, a little at a time and stir well after each addition. Stirring is an important part to the resulting creaminess of the risotto.

As you’re continuing to add broth and stir the rice, find that special position on the stove where the liquid isn’t cooking off too fast, but the fire isn’t so low that cooking stops.

When the rice has absorbed just about all of the liquid it can, add the tomato and mushroom powders and stir well.



Continue adding broth, water, or even some cream, until the rice is fully cooked. Taste for salt.

I personally love white pepper in risottos, but I didn’t want it to overpower the tomato and mushroom flavors.

To serve, I added a bit of grated Parmesan. Feta cheese would be good as well.

Plus I sprinkled on a few parsley leaves just for color.

The tomato and mushroom flavors in this risotto really sing. Grilled steak or chicken could be added, or maybe some braised short ribs. But I will always have tomato powder and mushroom powder in my seasoning arsenal.

Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes

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Recently I was browsing through a little cookbook I’d been gifted, Risotto, published by Williams-Sonoma.

It’s a sweet, unassuming cookbook, only 119 pages, published in 2002. The first chapter covers classic risottos, and following chapters discuss vegetable, meat, seafood, and even dessert risottos. It’s a great cookbook, especially if you’re a risotto virgin.

For me, risotto has never been a big deal. The main reason is that I’ve never been fearful of cooking. It’s not because I’m fearless, it’s because I was naïve!

When I began cooking regularly 40 years ago, I had no idea that certain recipes might be complicated or challenging. I just dove in head first and started learning and cooking.

Not to say that risotto is hard to make, because it isn’t. But yes, you have to give it some attention. And it involves standing at the stove for about an hour.

I know “quick and easy” meals will always be popular, but anyone can make an outstanding and satisfying dish like this mushroom risotto.

In this W-S cookbook I saw a recipe for baked risotto-stuffed tomatoes, and with my ripe garden tomatoes and herbs, I knew that this would be a really nice side dish for some grilled chicken, white fish, or even steak.

And, you can even use leftover risotto for this dish, instead of making risotto first.

Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes
Slightly Adapted

6 ripe but firm tomatoes, about 8 ounces each
Salt
Risotto, freshly prepared or leftover
1/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
Chopped fresh parsley
Chopped fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8″ baking dish.

Cut the top off each tomato. With a small spoon, carefully scoop out the insides, leaving walls thick enough for the tomato to hold its shape.

Reserve the pulp.

Salt the inside of each tomato and turn them upside down on paper towels to drain for 5 minutes.

In a food processor, purée the tomato pulp until smooth. I used the processed pulp as part of my risotto liquid, and seasoned the risotto with dried sweet basil, salt, and white pepper.

The tomato purée added a lovely peachy hue to the risotto.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and garlic; set aside.

Put the tomatoes in the prepared dish and fill the tomatoes with the risotto, patting it down.

Cover the dish with foil and bake until the tomatoes are softened, about 25-30 minutes.

Remove the foil, and top the tomatoes with the bread crumb mixture.

Turn on the broiler and place the tomatoes 4″ from the heat source. Broil until the tops are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.

Serve at once.

I sprinkled chopped parsley and a chiffonade of basil over the top of these stuffed tomatoes.

Cutting open a tomato was a delight, with the risotto’s fragrance emanating from inside.

Just a little salt and some cayenne pepper… or not.

This was perfection. And just to make sure the risotto-stuffed tomato was really good, I had a second one. But they would make a lovely side dish!

Crispy Beet Risotto

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My husband and I were dining with friends in Colorado recently, at a restaurant called Justice Snow’s in Aspen. It was quite bustling and busy, which means that for me, it was loud and everyone had to yell to be heard.

I was very excited about the menu, however, and without hesitation I ordered trout. Our friend ordered the roasted chicken served with crispy beet risotto, english peas, charred turnips, carrots, spiced yogurt, and ver jus.

While enjoying our cocktails, we talked at length about how the beets were prepared “crispy” in the risotto, but all of our profound thoughts were put to rest when he got his meal. The beet risotto was made crispy by frying it like a cake. Fortunately I got to taste it, and I knew then I wanted to make it at home.

It was especially tempting to recreate because I’ve never used beets in a risotto, and I thought I’d used about all vegetables, from carrots to pumpkin to zucchini and tomato. It’s probably because my husband doesn’t eat beets, and he’s the big risotto eater in our family.
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So here’s what I did. If you need a more complete risotto tutorial, check our my mushroom risotto. It’s similar to this one because it uses bits of things as well as special liquid – in this case – beet juice.
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Crispy Beet Risotto

Whole beets from a can, about 5-6 small
Reserved beet juice, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely choppped
1 1/4 cup risotto rice, like arborio or carnaroli
White or red wine, about 1/3 cup
Chicken Broth, about 1 cup
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan
Salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste
Olive oil, for frying

Drain the whole beets and save the juice.

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Then finely chop the beets into bits and set aside.

Begin the risotto by heating the olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for a few minutes, then add the rice.

Stir well until all of the rice grains are coated with oil. Add the wine and stir until the wine is absorbed. Adjust the heat so there’s simmmering but no burning. Then gradually add 1/4 cup or so of chicken broth and stir until it’s absorbed, and repeat with the remaining broth.

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At this point, add amount of beet juice that suits you; I used about 1/4 cup.

After a few minutes, add the beet bits.

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Continue to stir gently. Once just about alll of the liquid is absorbed, add the cream and cheese. Stir to combine, then set the risotto to cool slightly.

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The cakes can be made free-form, but I used a 3 1/2″ ring. Smaller cakes would be really pretty for a dinner party, because they could be re-heated.

Heat a little olive oil (or butter) to a flat skillet. Add some risotto to fill the ring and cook over fairly high heat to get the risotto crispy.

Gently turn over the risotto cake and brown/crisp the other side. This was much more difficult than I anticipated. Although I used a small amount of cheese in this risotto, it was probably still too much and created some sticking in the skillet.

I served the risotto cake with a filet of salmon and roasted Brussels sprouts, just for the spectacular colors!

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Just for fun I added a little Mexican crema to the risotto cake, and sprinkled some chopped chives on top.


In spite of my problems cooking the cakes, they cut into bite-sized pieces nicely, and were delicious.
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If you don’t want to bother making the cakes, I can honestly state that this is one of the best risottos I’ve ever made! And it’s not overwhelmingly beety.

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note: In my memory of our friend’s crispy beet risotto, I think the risotto “cake” was white, with bits of beets. What the chef probably did was omit the beet juice, and add the beet bits at the very last minute before crispig the cakes. Personally, I don’t mind the bright magenta color, and the beet juice probably added more flavor. But if you don’t want hot fuschia risotto cakes, do leave out the beet juice and use some more broth instead.

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Thai-Inspired Risotto

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When I make a dish that is inspired by a specific cuisine, like Indian, or Italian, it’s because I can. And you can, too. It’s just about being familiar with the specific ingredients of that cuisine. Then it’s just a matter of utilizing those ingredients to create your dish – no recipe required.

The same thing can be done with Thai food. I’m not saying I’m an expert. In fact, there are many ingredients I can’t get my hands on, which is sad, because I’ll never be able to taste them or cook with them. But there are two important ingredients in Thai cooking that are readily available. Those are curry pastes, and coconut milk.

Of course you can make your own curry pastes, and I’m one to usually do most everything from scratch in the kitchen. But because I can’t get certain fresh ingredients, like galangal and kaffir lime, there’s no way I could make a curry paste that comes close to the real thing. So I do rely on prepared curry pastes.

curry1

My favorite brand in Mae Ploy. The green is mostly green chiles and lemongrass. The red, my favorite, is mostly red chiles and garlic. The yellow is mostly lemongrass and garlic. They are pastes and must be refrigerated.

Regarding the coconut milk, I’m not talking sweetened coconut milk for pina coladas! Just plain coconut milk in a can. Coconut milk in a carton will work but it’s thinner and has a milder flavor.
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Two other ingredients that come in handy when making Thai food are herbs, like mint, cilantro, and basil, as well as chile peppers. These can both be sprinkled on top of your Thai dish. But as long as you have coconut milk and a curry paste, you can make any dish Thai inspired.

So today I’m making a risotto using red curry paste and coconut milk, and topping it with grilled garlic-cilantro shrimp. It’s Thai, and it’s risotto!

Thai-Inspired Risotto with Grilled Garlic-Cilantro Shrimp

For the risotto:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 shallots, diced
1″ piece ginger, diced
1 1/4 cup risotto rice, like arborio or carnaroli
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 can coconut milk, unsweetened
1 tablespoon red curry paste

For the shrimp:
1 pound good-sized shrimp, cleaned
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of 2 limes
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cilantro, to taste

Rinse and dry the shrimp; set aside.
thai

Place the remaining ingredients in a small blender and blend until smooth. Pour the marinade over the shrimp and toss them gently.

When you’re ready to cook the shrimp, heat a stove-top grill or skillet over high heat. Add the shrimp to the hot skillet and cook for just a minute or so on both sides. The timing will be different based on the size of your shrimp.


After you’re done cooking all of the shrimp, cover them and set aside while you make the risotto.

Instead of plain olive oil for the risotto, I actually poured the rest of the green marinade into the skillet while it was still hot, and let the watery liquid boil off.


Then I poured it through a fine sieve into the risotto pot. That way the oil I use is much more flavorful, with the garlic and cilantro flavors! But olive oil or butter will both work.

Heat the oil in the risotto pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and ginger. Sauté for a few minutes.


Then add the rice and stir until all of the rice grains are coated with the oil.
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Begin adding the chicken broth, about 1/4 cup at a time, and stirring the rice well after each addition.
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Add the curry paste and stir in completely. You will love the smells!

Then I began adding the coconut milk, and treating it exactly like the broth. But you can change up the broth to coconut milk ratio to your liking.


The risotto will let you know when it’s at maximum absorption, because it just won’t absorb any more liquid. But trust me, if you let it sit, it will thicken. So be ready to serve the risotto at the end of the cooking time. That way it will be hot and creamy, and not thick and stiff.
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Serve the risotto in a pasta-type bowl, and top with the grilled shrimp.
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I sprinkled on some slices of fresh chile peppers; Thai chile peppers aren’t necessary, you just want something with a little heat. Even jalapenos would work. Chile peppers provide such lovely color, as well.

You can also top the dish with chopped cilantro, mint, and or basil.

If you’re interested in authentic Thai cuisine, check out Miranti’s blog at The High Heel Gourmet!

Baked Cauliflower Risotto

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There is a lovely book written by a food blogger, Yvette van Boven, called “Home-Made Winter.” Photographs are by Oof Verschuren. The book was published in 2012.

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Not surprisingly, they also published “Home-Made Summer” together in 2013, which I also own.

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The whole idea of the summer and winter cookbooks really swept me off my feet, because I am so seasonally oriented. This isn’t just with the case of food. I change everything with the seasons, from my home decor to the lipstick I wear. And I’m not talking holidays. I’m talking seasons. I take them very seriously.

The Winter cookbook is inspired mainly by Yvette’s native land of Ireland; her summer book inspired by her love of adopted France. The recipes run the gamut from breakfast through dessert, plus drinks. There are also some holiday dishes included. The photos are a real delight, especially the ones featuring Yvette herself. She definitely doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Now, you may wonder why I chose this recipe out of Home Made Winter? There are two reasons.

First of all, even though it’s March, spring has not sprung where I live. I’m not running around outside in shorts planting tomato seedlings, and my strawberry plants don’t even look perky. It’s cold.

Secondly, I’ve never baked a risotto, so I decided this was a good time to start!

This recipe is probably not representative of the recipes in Ms. van Boven’s book, but it jumped out at me, not just because the risotto is baked, but because it includes cauliflower and Gruyere.

Baked Risotto with Cauliflower and Gruyere
adapted from Home Made Winter

1 small head of cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
7 ounces Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine, I used a Sauvignon Blanc
2 1/4 cups strong-flavored chicken broth
8 ounces grated Gruyere, or Fontina or even a white cheddar
Bread Crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Trim the cauliflower by removing the core. I usually make about 5 slices into the center of the cauliflower, slicing inward, until it comes out on its own.
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Remove excess leaves, then break up the cauliflower into florets.

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Steam the florets until they’re just tender, about 10 minutes over boiling water. Let cool, then place them on the cutting board and chop them coarsely.
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Heat a 12″ cast-iron skillet on the stove over medium heat. Add the onions and saute them for a few minutes.
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Then stir in the garlic and saute for barely a half of a minute.
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Weigh out the rice. I used arborio, but any risotto rice would work in its place.
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Pour the rice into the onion-garlic mixture.
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Stir well for about one minute. All of the grains of rice should be glistening.
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Then pour in all of the liquid.
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Add the chopped cauliflower.
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Add the grated cheese.
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Bring the liquid to a boil, then carefully place the skillet in the oven. Top with a tight fitting lid, and bake for 25 minutes.

It will look like this when it’s fully baked. Individual oven-proof dishes would have been very pretty for serving purposes, but it would have really been challenging to divide everything equally, when the rice to liquid ratio needs to be correct.

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I actually left the lid on the skillet for another 15 minutes, to insure that the rice was fully cooked. Then I removed the lid from the skillet.

The original recipe called for a large amount of bread crumbs, in my opinion. I just used a couple of tablespoons of my home-made bread crumbs to add some texture. If desired, the breadcrumbs can be mixed with dried herbs, or even fresh parsley, before being sprinkled. I left things plain for the purpose of testing my first baked risotto.
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At this point, the skillet can be placed under the broiler for browning purposes, but I left it as is. Truth be told, I got out my little butane torch for this purpose. It wasn’t working well so I refilled it. I thought I waited long enough, but somehow some butane leaked and the whole thing caught on fire. I screamed and did what any intelligent person would do and threw it on the floor, nearly missing my dog. Fortunately, the flames retarded quickly. It’s good I have a non-flammable floor. But I was more worried about my very inquisitive dog, as well as my one hand that’s now as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

Note to self: make sure to ask for a new butane torch for Christmas.

To serve, I sliced a wedge of the baked risotto because I thought it would be pretty, but there just isn’t enough cheese throughout the risotto to keep things stuck together.
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Nonetheless, I served the wedge alongside a fresh tomato salad.
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I must say it was delicious. It helps if you love cauliflower, of course.
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verdict: The top of the baked risotto looks a bit anemic – I think I probably should have taken the time to brown the top. But the looks of it doesn’t reflect the full flavors. However, I’m not really sure what purpose the arborio rice served. I think it could have been any white rice, or even brown rice, given a longer cooking time. But it was fun, and as a side dish it went very well on subsequent days with both steak and chicken. I would call it a rice-cauliflower gratin.

If I have one complaint about this book, it’s that the author doesn’t go into many details, such as pan dimensions, or number of servings. So novice cooks might be a bit challenged. If you want to check out Yvette’s blog first, here it is. She’s adorable, and has published other books than these as well.