Risotto with Pork Shanks

41 Comments

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

72 Comments

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.

The Spice Companion

47 Comments

The Spice Companion, by Lior Lev Sercarz, is a book I recently discovered and ordered from Amazon. It was published in 2016.

Because of the title, I expected some information on spices, being that the author also owns a store in New York City called La Boîte, which specializes in spices and spice mixtures. But it’s seriously an encyclopedia of spices, starting with ajowan, aleppo, allspice, and amchoor, and ending with za’atar, zedoary, and zuta.

A spice, according to Mr. Sercarz, is “any dried ingredient that elevates food or drink,” so that includes coriander seeds, basil leaves, and turmeric root.

Mr. Sercarz was born and raised on a kibbutz in Israel. The history of his exposure to spice markets, and how he eventually traveled the world seeking out spices, all while his interest in cooking grew, is a story worthy of a movie. After adventuring in Columbia to “see firsthand how cardamom was grown,” he ended up at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France, then moved to New York City to work at Daniel Boulud’s restaurant, Daniel.

La Boite opened in 2007 in Hell’s Kitchen, and the store has a beautiful website. It was at the website that I discovered that Mr. Sercarz has a 2012-published book called The Art of Blending.

Spice mixtures are what originally intrigued the young author with spices; chefs such as Eric Ripert utilize his custom-designed spice blends at their restaurants.

But first I must tell you about the encyclopedia part, which spans 154 pages – two per spice.

Under the name and latin name of the spice is a drawing of the plant and the part(s) used for the spice.

There is a brief description of what the spice is, its flavor and aroma, its origin, harvest season, parts of the spice/plant used, plus some more details.

On the next page is a photograph of the spice as it’s used – seeds and leaves, for example – its traditional uses, recipe ideas using the spice, and recommended pairings.

Then the author offers a blend utilizing the spice, and what to use it in or on.

This is a lot of information but helpful if you’re a cook, gardener, or just want to start making spice mixtures in your kitchen!

When I was reading through the book, I stopped at Tomato Powder as a spice. Dried tomatoes ground into a spice. Why not? I use ground paprika, which is made from peppers, so why not tomato powder made from its fruit?!!

The author describes tomato powder as “a dry, richly flavored powder made from ripe, sweet tomatoes.”

When I have a glut of ripe tomatoes during the hot summer months, I slice them and dry them in my dehydrator, and save them in the refrigerator. That way, they stay fresh, and I reconstitute them in soups and stews as needed throughout the cold months.

I happened to have a bag of dried tomatoes from last summer.

So for fun, I got out my bag and blended the tomatoes in a dry blender.

One recipe suggestion from the author is to stir tomato powder into orange juice and use it as a base for a vinaigrette with honey and olive oil. And that’s just what I did!


I used 8 ounces of orange juice, 1 heaping tablespoon of tomato powder, 1 tablespoon of honey, and 8 ounces of olive oil.

I drizzled the lettuce leaves with the dressing, and added goat cheese and walnuts.

To say it was magnificent is an understatement. Barely four hours later, I had the same salad for dinner, including a ripe avocado. I added a little white balsamic vinegar to the dressing.

There are certainly other, more exotic spices I could have experimented with from Mr. Sercarz’s book, assuming I could have even gotten my hands on some of them, but I’m really excited about tomato powder.

And the book will be a great reference for the spices I can purchase. I especially love how he makes recommendations on unique ways in which to use the spices, even common ones.

My only complaint with the book is that the photo pages are not labeled.