Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pea Risotto

It is getting cold outside.

This isn't just the gentle cold of October that brings out the fall jackets. This is late November's cold. It is a more biting cold, a cold that calls for scarfs, but promises no snow. It is a cold that requires turning up the thermostat and bringing out the thicker blankets at night. This cold calls for risotto.

Risotto is one of those greats foods that I think is incredibly versatile, delicious, and fairly easy to make, yet not that many people do make it. I'm not quite sure why. I suppose it was just never popularized in regular households, which is shame, really, because it is such a perfect cold-weather food. It is also surprisingly healthy (I only say surprisingly because risottos can taste so rich and creamy), which is plus, since many hearty wintery meals can be heavy and full of cream or butter. Now, I don't have a problem at all with cream or butter, but sometimes I want a nice filling meal that doesn't weigh me down and make me feel like I need to take a nap afterwards. Thus, risotto. Unassuming, easily personalized, and not at all fussy. Risotto requires no intensive work or special ingredients.

So what are you waiting for? The cold, the wind, the rain, it all doesn't seem so bad when you've got a bowl on the table, ready to warm you up.

Quick Risotto
1 tbsp butter
2/3 cup long grain rice
3-4 cups chicken broth
2/3 peas (optional)
dash of milk (optional)
dash of oregano (optional)
salt & pepper

First off, I will admit that I used Uncle Ben's white rice (specifically, the "boil-in-a-bag" kind) because I had nothing better on hand. I don't think this significantly hurt my final product, because the risotto was still delicious, although if you have something else ready on hand, go for it!

I also used homemade chicken stock. I was never a homemade chicken stock kind of girl because it seemed like such a huge hassle, but now that I don't live with my family anymore, I find that making chicken stock is an excellent use of chicken "leftovers." Basically, whenever I eat rotisserie chicken, I avoid all the white meat (I'm not a white meat girl) and once I've eaten all the tasty bits, I collect all the bones and throw them into a pot with the leftover white meat, oregano, rosemary, onion, garlic, carrots, and water and let it boil and then simmer and reduce down into a delicious stock. Once the flavor is sufficiently concentrated, I remove all the bones/meat/veggies and salt to my taste. Sometimes it tastes so good, I'll admit to steal more than a couple spoonfuls before storing in fridge for cooking purposes. I told this to a vegetarian friend who was horrified by the idea of me drinking "chicken juice," but trust me, until you've made your own chicken stock, you really have no idea how wonderful it can be.

Okay, sorry for that tangent. Would you like to know how to make some risotto? Yes? Then we shall get started.

Melt the butter down in a 3-4 quart pot. Add the rice and sauté together until the rice is fairly translucent and has absorbed much of the butter. (If you feel like getting fancy, this is where you can also sauté some onions and garlic.)

Add about a cup of chicken stock, stir, keep on medium-low heat. This risotto is only about as needy as a five-year old child, meaning you don't have to be by its side all the time, but I wouldn't walk away for more than 3 minutes or so without checking back.

Once the rice appears to have absorbed the broth, add another cup of broth. Stir, allow to absorb as before. Then add another cup of chicken stock. Stir, allow to absorb. Add another cup of chicken stock and, if you feel like it, this is the step where you should add your defrosted frozen peas. Allow the broth to be absorbed. If you like a creamier taste, this is when you can add a splash or two of milk (the % fat shouldn't matter too much, I generally use skim milk). Once the milk has been absorbed, take the risotto off the heat, season to taste and sprinkle with a dash of oregano.

The whole cooking process should take about 25-30 minutes and should yield over 2 cups cooked risotto (rice alone, not including peas), which, for me, was enough for two meals and a snack.

When I'm feeling particularly miserable after a cold day, I serve this with a little pat of salted butter and a soft cooked egg. It is delicious, heart-warming, and the perfect thing to eat in bed while watching Lucky Number Slevin, if you were the type to do that sort of thing.

Also, I should note that this risotto heats up in the microwave just fine, although you might want to add a splash of milk or chicken stock to it before heating. I heat one bowl for 1 minute, stir, and then 30 more seconds before serving.

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