Sunday, September 6, 2009

Risotto with Radicchio and Red Wine

There is really no reason to be intimidated by risotto. The technique is quite simple and once you make a couple of decisions about whether to cook it over high heat vs. low--which bears on how you prefer to arrive at al dente for your risotto--you're laughing! If you like the risotto very al dente, I'd say cook it on high for a rigorous boil and near constant stirring. If you like your risotto less al dente and don't feel like constantly stirring, cook it over medium to medium low heat and let the rice do its thang.

This risotto recipe resulted from my stepping up to the Eating Down the Fridge/Freezer/Pantry challenge that took place on one of my favorite food blogs, A Mighty Appetite on The concept is simple really. Hold off on buying most groceries beyond your essentials (milk, coffee, eggs, produce, or however you choose to define "essential") and cook with what you have on hand from your fridge, freezer, pantry, and spice rack. If you can't see the back of your fridge/pantry/freezer and haven't used your curry since the last time you made vindaloo before the millenium turned, it's time to eat down your fridge, folks! In a larger sense it's about not being wasteful in these tough economic times when we are all mindful of where our money is going and trying to get the most out of a dollar. I'd had a half head of radicchio and some leftover wine that I wanted to use and this is the perfect recipe for both.

As is my usual way, I have consulted multiple sources with the resulting recipe being a hybrid of two different recipes. The main recipe is Faith Willinger's who is one of the leading proponents of Italian cooking, especially in the style of Tuscany where her husband is from. I bought her book Red, White & Greens years ago after hearing her interviewed on NPR. After I became a devotee of my DC farmers market nearly four years ago, I perused her cookbook anew, finding many delicious preparations in which vegetables are the star, though the dish may not be vegetarian. She recommends making the recipe below with white wine and endive, but informs us that radicchio can be used instead of the endive.

The Risotto al Cabernet Michael Chiarello made in an episode of Easy Entertaining was one of those recipes that stuck with me because I knew I would want to try it sometime. I usually make risotto when I have a bit of leftover wine and since we drink more reds than whites, I tend to have more bottles of red to use up and the mind turns to ragu bolognaise and such. I especially like Chiarello's recipe because you can prepare the risotto up to a point and then finish it up by heating and thinning with the red wine. This technique makes the risotto a make ahead possibility when entertaining since it can be completed just before serving.

Risotto al Vino Rosso con Radicchio
Adapted from Faith Willinger's Red, White, & Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables and Michael Chiarello's Risotto al Cabernet
Serves 4 to 6

4 tablespoons olive oil (and/or butter)
1 small onion, chopped [can also subsitute leeks or shallots if preferred]
1/2 head radicchio, halved, cored, and cut into strips (or 2 Belgian endive cut into strips)
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup arborio rice
3/4 cup wine [I'd suggest red wine for the radicchio and white for the endive]
5 cups or so simmering stock
1/4 to 1/2 cup of wine that you'll be having with dinner, or leftover
1/2 cup grated Parmagianno-Reggiano
2 tablespoons butter, optional
chopped herbs, such as chives or parsley, optional

  1. Bring your stock to a simmer over low heat on a back burner. If finishing with butter, set aside in a small dish and allow it to soften as you prepare the risotto.
  2. Heat the olive oil/butter over medium heat and add the chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to coat and soften the onion without browning for about 5 minutes. Stir in the radicchio and stir until wilted, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the rice. Stir to coat, adding oil if necessary, and cook stirring as needed until the rice turns opaque. Some grains may brown lightly which is also desirable.
  4. Deglaze with the wine, stirring to loosen any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  5. Ladle in about 1 cup of stock. Here is where you decide if you want to give the risotto your undivided attention and cook on medium high with frequent stirring (Ms. Willinger's preference) or cook on medium low with less attention and only occasional stirring. Both methods will take about 20 minutes so it depends on YOU. If you're a multi-tasker in the kitchen like me, you may want to simmer the risotto on medium low as you go about other preparations. In either case you add enough stock--usually 1/2 to 1 cup or so--to raise the liquid level to about half an inch above the rice. As the stock is absorbed into the rice, the level of the liquid will be about the same as the rice and you will hear some sizzle from the bottom of the pot. At this point, add more stock--a 1/2 cup to 1 cup at a time--and give a stir making sure the rice does not stick. It is the repeated adding of liquid and stirring that releases the starch from the rice and makes the risotto creamy before even adding melted butter, cheese, or cream. It's really no different from cooking old-fashioned or steel cut oats which can be made deliciously creamy via a slow simmer.
  6. After the third addition of stock, season with salt and pepper, mindful that the addition of Parmesan cheese at the end will also contribute some saltiness. After 15 minutes and/or the fourth addition of stock, you may want to taste the risotto to see how close it is to doneness. Risotto should not be completely soft like cooked rice. It should be toothsome, i.e. al dente, such that there's a bit of resistance when chewed, although it should not be crunchy at all. It should also have a loose consistency, although Mario Batali likes to serve it soupy.
  7. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan and butter if using. Finish with a half cup or so of wine which you can stir into the pot or add smaller amounts to each person's dish as it is served. Garnish with chopped herbs if using. Buon Apetito!