March 31, 2009

Porcini and Pancetta Risotto Rustica

[caption id="attachment_71" align="aligncenter" width="427" caption="Risotto Rustica"]Risotto Rustica[/caption]

Risotto is among the best comfort foods and it only requires simple techniques and ingredients. The fundamental ingredient is rice.

Use approximately ¼ cup uncooked rice per person for a side dish, or ½ cup per person for a main dish. Vialone Nano, Carnaroli, or Arborio are the best choices for rice. Arborio is high in starch and commonly available. Carnaroli, also high in starch, has a firmer texture than Arborio and is resistant to quick cooking; it is considered the premier rice for risotto. Vialone Nano is a slightly shorter, thicker grain; it holds twice its weight in liquid, yet makes a slightly less creamy sauce.

[caption id="attachment_57" align="alignleft" width="123" caption="Porcini"]Porcini[/caption]

I was lucky to get some beautiful dried porcini. I tossed the porcini into a sauce pan with a quart of chicken stock, brought it gently to a boil, and then turned off the heat to let the mushrooms reconstitute and infuse the stock at the same time.

While the porcini were soaking, I assembled the remainder of the mise en place: about ½ pound of pancetta, diced; ½ a red onion, diced; 2 cloves garlic, minced; a generous portion of Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved. In addition, there was a bottle of chardonnay ready to hand, about four tablespoons of unsalted butter, and my secret weapon, a wonderful truffle and salt blend.

The basic technique for creating a really creamy risotto is pretty easy--don't stop stirring. It's very important that the liquid you'll be adding is at the simmer, and that you add about four times as much liquid as you do rice.

risottostep2I started with the pancetta, added the onion until translucent, then the garlic, and finally the porcini. Whenever anything felt like it was sticking the least bit, I splashed a tablespoon or so of wine into the pan to deglaze. Once everything was cooked, I poured it into a bowl for later, added some nice olive oil to the pan, added the rice--about 1½ cups--and cooked it until white spots appeared, about 3 minutes.risottostep3

At this point, it's a simple matter of continual stirring while adding up to ½ stock at a time; add a pinch of salt after each addition of liquid. When the stock is mostly absorbed, add more. If anything feels like it's sticking, deglaze with a bit of wine. I used about ½ cup of wine in total, and about six cups of chicken broth. For salt, I used the truffle and salt combo, a really wonderfully fragrant option.

risottofinishWhen the rice is just done, it should be a bit toothy but not crunchy, add butter, cheese, cream, or whatever else you're finishing with. I used unsalted butter and ½ a cup or so of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Once incorporated, I added the pancetta, onion, and porcini mixture and dished it into bowls filled with arugula. A glass of chianti riserva completed the meal.

March 25, 2009

Quick Supper

I'm amazed that when people need to throw something together for a meal, they often neglect fruit. It doesn't take much, half an apple in with some potatoes transforms the flavor delightfully. For example, I was visiting a friend, and she asked if I felt like cooking. Well of course I did. Opened the refrigerator to see what was there, and found bits and pieces: part of a red onion, a carrot, some leftover pineapple chunks, a bag of sugar snap peas, and chicken thighs. What to do?

Easy! Dice the onion and slice the carrot. Hand my friend the peas and ask her to clean them. Get some garlic and rub down the chicken thoroughly. Heat up her best frying pan with some nice olive oil in it, sauté the onions. Quickly slice the pineapple chunks. Add the carrots to the pan. Locate the sea salt and sprinkle some on the chicken, then toss a bit in the pan. Add the peas to the pan. Locate an open bottle of chardonnay and a plate.

Put the partially sautéed veggies on the plate, add garlic oil and olive oil to the pan (she loves garlic) and brown the chicken thighs. When it's time to turn them, toss in the pineapple. Drink the chardonnay.

Okay, the chicken is done, mostly, so add the veggies back in. More sea salt and some freshly ground pepper go into the pan, along with a splash of chardonnay. Cover loosely and drink a bit more wine.

Root around in the refrigerator and find an open but still usable bottle of a sweet ginger-soy sauce. Add about two tablespoons to the pan, stir, and cover. Find plates to serve, dish up some rice, plate the chicken with veggies on the side. The juices have thickened into a nice pan sauce, so sauce the plates, and voilà, supper is served!

March 22, 2009

Vanilla Shortbread Dough

[caption id="attachment_35" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Shortbread Cookies"]Shortbread Cookies[/caption]

Shortbread cookies are really my favorite, and the dough can double as a sweet tart dough, making it really a useful part of your repertoire. This recipe requires two types of vanilla: Tahitian vanilla extract and Madagascar vanilla paste. If you aren't familiar with Tahitian vanilla, it's very floral and should only be used when vanilla is the predominant flavor. Vanilla paste is sugar based and uses genuine vanilla seeds for its flavor.

Vanilla Shortbread Dough
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 tsp Fleur de Sel
3 egg yolks
2 tbls Tahitian vanilla extract
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
3 3/4 cups flour

Cream the butter, sugar, and salt until pale yellow. Add the yolks and two vanillas and mix well. Add the flour all at once and mix until just incorporated.

If making cookies, divide the dough into quarters and roll into logs. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight. The dough can then be wrapped in foil and frozen for up to two weeks. To make cookies, unwrap a thawed log and cut it into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Bake at 350 for 11 minutes. I generally start checking at 9 minutes and cook until they're just done.

For a tart shell, form a thick round, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight. Roll out to the appropriate thickness, place in a greased tart pan, and bake blind at 350 for six to eight minutes.

March 19, 2009

Lunch at Murata with Miso Soup

My father and I took in the Portland Japanese Gardens today, with a break for lunch at Restaurant Murata. The Gardens are beginning to show the first signs of Spring. But about that lunch....

Restaurant Murata is one of Portland's better Japanese restaurants. It's located in the 200 Market Building at...wait for it...200 Market Street, across from the Keller and next to Carafe, which will be the subject of a future blog, but I digress. There's a full menu at lunchtime, with Murata-san and a helper working the sushi bar. I chose a special with two entrées: sashimi and nigiri sushi.

[caption id="attachment_23" align="alignleft" width="112" caption="Sunomono and Asahi"]Sunomono and Asahi[/caption]

Lunch began with sunomono, and I had beer, of course. The sunomono was cucumbers.

[caption id="attachment_24" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Chrysanthemum, Dikon, and Soup"]Chrysanthemum, Dikon, and Soup[/caption]

Next course included miso soup, pickled dikon, and sesame chrysanthemum.



Sushi and Sashimi

The main course was sashimi—tako and tuna—and sushi, with rice to round out the meal. The meal cost $15.50, and the beer was $4.95. Rather reasonable for high-quality, hand-made sushi and sashimi.



Miso Soup

Miso soup is dead easy to make. First, make a good dashi (stock).

Take a sheet of kombu (dried kelp), wipe it off, and put it into a non-reactive pan with a quart of cold water. You can let it sit up to overnight if you wish, but at least 30 minutes is necessary. Put the pot onto the heat and slowly bring it to the point where the water shivers and remove the kombu. Add 100 grams or so of katsuo-bushi (dried bonito) flakes and allow the water to come to a boil. Skim any foam from the surface and stop the heat. Strain the stock through cheese cloth or a fine sieve, reserving the katsuo-bushi for your favorite feline.

While you're waiting for the dashi to come to temperature, prepare some bowls with your favorite tofu, cut into bite-size pieces, and add green onions or sea vegetables or whatever else is at hand (enoki mushrooms—mmm). To the dashi, add miso to taste. I prefer about half-and-half red and white miso. Stir  and pour into the bowl. Eat right now. Don't wait. Eat it all, it doesn't pay to reheat it.

March 18, 2009

Cork ReHarvest

I was strolling through a local Whole Foods Market a couple of days ago and saw a big carboard box with Cork ReHarvest on the side. "Hmm," I thought, "what's this?"

Well, it seems that Willamette Valley Vineyards is collecting corks from wine bottles to recycle into molded fiber wine shippers. They've managed to become the first winery in the world to receive FSC Certification. They also want you to recycle their wine bottles, and give a ten-cent credit for each bottle you take back to the winery.

Why should you care? Lots of reasons, most of which I didn't know until I stumbled across that box. For example, there are 6.6 million acres of cork oak forests that support forest biodiversity second only to the Amazon Rainforest. And cork is harvested by stripping bark from cork oaks every 9-12 years; the trees live up to 300 years!

Some vintners are opting to use screw caps and plastic stoppers, but those aren't sustainable options, like cork. Besides, cork allows wine to age naturally in the bottle and is best for wine quality.

Just thought you should know.

March 17, 2009

Time for Dessert

As a child, I always wanted to eat dessert first. Now that I'm an adult, I often do. Naturally, then, my first blog post should be a dessert recipe, don't you think? I've had a lot of gelato over the years, but nothing beats a simple Vanilla Gelato, especially one made with Tahitian vanilla and covered with fresh strawberries macerated in saba.

Vanilla Gelato
1½ cups milk
1½ cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
½ vanilla bean

Mix the milk, cream, and sugar in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring continuously, until the sugar is dissolved and bubbles form at the edge. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla, scraping the seeds into the pan. Let stand 30 minutes, then remove the vanilla bean pod. Refrigerate overnight, then process in an ice cream freezer following the manufacturer's instructions. Place in the refrigerator freezer until firm.

If you can't get Tahitian vanilla beans, or don't want the seeds in your gelato, use Tahitian vanilla extract. Or you could substitute any vanilla bean or even vanilla paste. If you use vanilla paste, I suggest 1½ teaspoons.