Monday, September 28, 2009

Artichoke and Mushroom Risotto

There are a few edible things in life that I have never particularly liked: rice, pork chops, stewed tomatoes and cooked bell peppers top that list. I can now remove rice from that list after creating this recipe. The concoction below is my first foray into risotto -- that elusive, creamy rice dish that transforms a boring carb into a decadent experience. If that weren't enough, adding white truffle oil at the end adds another layer of out-of-this-world savor that transforms a weeknight dinner into something several steps above ordinary.

Artichoke and Mushroom Risotto
3-4 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 mushrooms, finely chopped
3 canned artichoke hearts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup sherry
1/2 cup Parmesan Reggiano cheese, grated
White truffle oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In small saucepan, heat chicken stock (from scratch or canned) until it reaches a gentle simmer. Set aside.
2. Heat olive oil and 2 tbsp butter in heavy-bottomed saute pan. Add red onion and cook for 4 minutes stirring occasionally until the onion is golden. Add garlic and mushrooms and continue stirring until garlic starts to caramelize, approximately 1 minute.
3. Add arborio rice and stir until it is coated with the oil-butter mixture. Add cubed artichoke hearts. Add sherry and cook, stirring gently, until it has completely evaporated and been absorbed into the rice, about 1 minute.
4. Slowly add enough heated chicken stock to cover the rice. Stir until the stock has been absorbed and evaporated. Continue adding, stirring and evaporating stock for approximately 20 minutes. (A 1/3 to a 1/2 cup at a time is sufficient.) The risotto is done when the rice is soft on the outside and al dente on the inside.
5. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 tbsp butter and the Parmesan Reggiano until both have melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve immediately with extra cheese and white truffle oil on the side.

Substitution Suggestion: My inspiration recipe, of which I largely ignored except for cooking instructions, called for carrots and zucchini to be sauteed after the onion. It also called for asparagus tips at the end of the cooking process. Any squash could probably work. Sun-dried tomatoes and green onions would work, too. The key is to think about how it will complement the protein that you'll undoubtedly serve next to it.
I don't drink, but when cooking with alcohol, I prefer sherry over white wine, so that's why it's included here. White wine will work just fine.

Lessons Learned: I've steered clear of risotto for two reasons: 1) I don't like rice, and 2) everyone says it's hard to make. With this recipe, I can now confidently declare that I like rice and if I can make this risotto on the first try without it going gummy, anyone can do this! Considering it was my first attempt, I'm pretty proud of myself. I think the tip is to add hot liquid and to continue stirring. Sure, it's labor intensive, but it is SO worth it. What a treat to feel each individual grain of rice enveloped in the creaminess that's created by the starch, stock and butter.
That said, you really need good ingredients. Chicken stock powder won't cut it here. You need real stock. I admit that I used the low-sodium canned stuff, but I'll use homemade next time. And, don't use the Parmesan in the green can that you find on the top shelf of the pasta aisle. The freshly grated stuff really isn't that much more expensive than the tasteless version with the five-year shelf life. If you use artichoke hearts, do not, I repeat do NOT use marinated hearts. All that brine will absolutely ruin the flavor you have painstakingly built with all that stirring. I found hearts that didn't have any of the leaves left on them. By putting them in early in the process, they'll absorb a lot of the flavor of the onion and garlic. The truffle oil was definitely a splurge (at $18 for the tiny bottle), but I loved the extra nuance it added to the dish.

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