Posts tagged rice

Rampless Risotto

risotto

What are the most obvious signs of spring? Some might say the flowering trees and plants; others celebrate the arrival of warmer temperatures and lighter jackets. But in the world of food blogs, spring means one thing: ramps.

Food bloggers love these mild spring onions. Once they are sighted at farmers’ markets, new posts about ramps fill my RSS reader, almost to the exclusion of anything else. Ramps in pasta, ramps on pizza, ramps, ramps, ramps. I’m sure there are many good reasons for this unabashed ramp love, but I don’t understand it—I’ve never tried a single ramp. I don’t know how I’ve survived in this rampless state until now, but I sure hope I don’t get banned from food blogging because of it. 

In fact, starting last weekend I did everything I could to cure my ramp-related ignorance. Jim had picked up a local flyer advertising that last week’s farmers’ market would be “all about ramps.” On Sunday morning, with my shopping bag slung over my shoulder, I bounded down my apartment steps and made my way to the Carroll Gardens market. I went straight to the W. Rogowski farm stand and searched earnestly between the piles of lettuce, spinach, and green onions.

“Excuse me, do you have ramps today?” I asked, a hint of worry creeping into my voice.

“No, I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to go down to the swamp to look for them this week,” responded a harried-looking Cheryl Rogowski. “But we do have watercress.”

Boo. Boo on watercress. I sighed and bought some asparagus, swiss chard, and green garlic instead.

But I wasn’t ready to give up on my ramps. On Monday morning I headed to the Union Square Farmers’ Market. At 8 am. Before work. In the rain. 

I walked around and around the market. I saw more asparagus, and I saw more watercress. I spied bread, greens, and flowers.

But no ramps. 

And then, my friends, I gave up. 

That evening at home, I took the spring risotto recipe that I had planned to make with ramps and shifted the ingredients around a bit. The original recipe called for a ramp and swiss chard pesto to be stirred into a risotto of asparagus, fava beans, and peas. Instead of using ramps in the pesto, I chopped some leeks with the swiss chard. I didn’t have any fava beans, and I hate peas, so I concentrated on the asparagus and green garlic that I had purchased the day before. And in the end, even without ramps, I created two beautiful and creamy plates of risotto. Each lemony forkful was full of fresh, green specks of seasonal goodness. I’m not giving up on ramps for good, but with them or without them, spring has definitely arrived. 

Recipe for Spring Risotto with Asparagus, Green Garlic, Swiss Chard, and Leeks (Adapted from the New York Times, April 23, 2008)

For the pesto:

  • 1 leek, cleaned and chopped
  • 3/4 cups packed swiss chard leaves
  • dash of salt
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

For the risotto:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallots
  • 3 sprigs of green garlic, minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • About 5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 6 to 10 rods of asparagus, sliced into 2-inch pieces
  • Parmesan cheese

For the pesto: Place the chopped leeks, swiss chard leaves, and salt in a small food processor or hand blender. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil. Season to taste. Set aside.

For the risotto: In a medium saucepan, bring your chicken or vegetable stock to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Add 1/2 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large pot. Once the butter has melted, add the green garlic and the shallots. Cook garlic and shallots together until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the rice. Stir the rice for a minute or two, until the edges become translucent.

Add the white wine to the pot, and stir the rice until it has absorbed most of the wine. You know the liquid has been absorbed when you can scrape your spoon through the rice and it sticks to the sides of the pan a bit, showing the bottom of the pan. 

Add a few spoonfuls of stock to the rice. I usually work with a ladle, and add 1 full ladle of stock at a time. Stir the rice until the liquid is absorbed, and then add some more stock. Stir the rice continuously. (Taking a few small breaks is fine.) Continue to add stock and stir the rice in this manner until the rice is al dente and quite creamy, about 18 to 20 minutes.

When the rice is about halfway done (at the 10-12 minute mark) add the asparagus to the pot. Continue to stir.

When the rice is done, remove it from the heat. Stir in the pesto. Stir in 1/2 tablespoon of butter and about 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, topped with grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 2. Enjoy!

Comments (8) »

Artichoke Christina Barcelona

I am dying to go to Spain, particularly Barcelona. I’ve been obsessed for months now, reading Mark Kurlansky’s Basque History of the World and Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s amazing mystery The Shadow of the Wind. The movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona, viewed on my last plane flight, only fueled the fires of my travel bug.

Unfortunately I don’t see this trip happening in my near future, so I’ve tried to indulge in the next best thing: food. I started by experimenting with Food & Wine’s squid- and chorizo-infused farro salad, a recipe that emits its own particular brand of Spanish spirit, at least in my mind. Although farro is usually associated with Italian cuisine, the addition of smoky chorizo and plump squid transforms this dish into something that might be inspired by the Iberian Peninsula. I’m not expecting to find this meal in Spain, but in my Brooklyn kitchen, it did just fine.

farrosalad

This dish has an almost mysterious edge to it, introducing me to exotic flavors I don’t normally encounter in my everyday life. Jim and I used more squid than called for in the original recipe, as our fishmonger sold it by the pound and we didn’t want to waste it. We substituted dried oregano for fresh marjoram, and at the end we couldn’t resist throwing some fresh arugula into the mix. The peppery greens added a welcome note of freshness to the combination of smoky meat, chewy squid, and nutty grains.

We ate this for two nights in a row before heading out with friends to Soccarat, New York City’s new paella bar. Jim and I had amusingly observed that although our salad used farro instead of rice, the rest of the ingredients were quite similar to the traditional paella we were about to enjoy. No matter. At this festive sliver of a restaurant, we shared the arroz negro, a pan of luscious short-grain, squid-inked rice filled with shrimp, scallops, and cuttlefish. After one bite, I can honestly say that it transported us—in mind and spirit—to Spain. The word “soccarat” actually refers to the caramelized rice on the bottom of a perfect paella, and it was indeed the best part of the dish. Our waitress even scraped the pan for us with a large spoon, to make sure we didn’t miss any of it. As we ate one forkful after next, leaving nothing in the pan, I realized that my Spanish obsession isn’t over. Between the farro salad and our visit to Soccarat, I am more than ready to go. Where’s my suitcase?

Recipe for Farro Salad with Squid, Chorizo, and Arugula (adapted from Food & Wine magazine, April 2009)

  • 1 cup farro
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry chorizo, skinned and sliced (about 2 small links of chorizo)
  • 3/4 pound cleaned squid, bodies cut into 1/4-inch rings, large tentacles cut in half (We used 1 pound of squid, but 3/4 is probably just right)
  • salt
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 small bunch arugula, washed
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • freshly ground pepper

Place the farro in a bowl and cover it with cold water. Soak for 20 minutes. Drain. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the farro, cover and simmer over low heat until the farro is al dente, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chorizo and cook until sizzling, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the squid and cook, stirring, until just white throughout, about 2 to 3 minutes. The edges of the rings will start to turn in a bit when cooked as well. Do not overcook the squid. Remove the pan from the heat and season with a bit of salt.

Using a slotted spoon, add the chorizo and the squid to the farro. Add the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, vinegar. Tear the arugula leaves in half and add them to the salad. Add a few glugs of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss. Serves 4. Enjoy!

Comments (2) »

Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves (and an Engagement)

I know, I know. I thought I was back on the path to blogging regularly, but somehow two weeks have gone by without a new post. Between worrying about the election and traveling many miles on the weekends for various family commitments, I’ve been pressed for both time and energy. But in the midst of all the craziness, I have some good news: My sister Melissa and her boyfriend Nedim are engaged! You may remember these wacky kids from several restaurant adventures I’ve written about, as well as an exhausting ravioli dinner last year. Needless to say, I am thrilled for the happy couple.

Last weekend my parents threw a party to celebrate the engagement, and my mother asked Jim and I to contribute an appetizer. After some thought, Jim suggested that we make a dish inspired by Nedim’s Turkish heritage. I immediately agreed, so we pulled out Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food and started flipping through the pages.

We had a few criteria for our appetizer, beyond its necessary Turkish roots. First of all, Jim and I knew that my mother would be busy preparing the rest of the party food in the oven, and we wanted to stay out of her way. We needed to stay out of her way. (Trust me.) Our appetizer had to travel well, as we would be transporting it from our home in Brooklyn, and it had to be unobtrusive in my mother’s kitchen. We decided that a cold dish would be best.

We quickly settled on making Roden’s cold stuffed grape leaves, which she also calls dolma. The word dolma actually refers to any stuffed vegetable dish of Middle Eastern origin, but grape leaves are one of the best known. Meat dolma are hot, while vegetarian dolma are usually served cold or at room temperature. After buying some preserved grape leaves at Sahadi’s, Jim and I settled in for an exciting Friday night at home, rolling and stuffing about 70 leaves with a fragrant mixture of rice, tomatoes, onions, parsley, mint, cinnamon, and allspice.

While the process of preparing the grape leaves was time-consuming, it actually wasn’t stressful or exhausting. Jim and I had fun methodically stuffing and rolling the cigar-shaped tubes as the evening wore on. Once rolled, the leaves were cooked in a bath of olive oil and lemon juice, resulting in the glistening surface and smooth texture typical of this traditional mezze. Jim and I tasted one that night, biting through the delicate layers of supple, slightly briny leaves to the cool, silky rice and Middle Eastern spices within. While the coating of olive oil, lemon juice, and sugar imparted a luxurious sweetness to the rolls, the secret to this recipe was the mint; it infused the leaves with a zesty lightness that I adored.

I’m pretty sure that everyone at the party enjoyed our contribution to the appetizers, including my sister and her fiancé. I was surprised by how many people referred to the leaves as dolma, as I had never heard the term before reading the recipe. My cousin’s Greek husband even said they were the best he ever tasted. So, welcome to the family, Nedim. I hope you liked them as well!

Recipe for Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves (adapted from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food) This recipe makes about 70 grape leaves, perfect for a big party or celebration.

For the filling:

  • 2 1/2 cups Carolina long-grain rice
  • 6 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 very large white onion, finely diced
  • 4 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 tablespoons dried mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • salt and pepper

For the pans/cooking time:

  • 2 or 3 plum tomatoes (sliced)
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons

Bring a full kettle of water to a boil. Place the preserved grapes leaves in a large bowl, and try to separate the leaves as much as possible. Pour the boiling water over the leaves, making sure that the water reaches between the layers of leaves. Let the leaves soak for 20 minutes. Drain. Using fresh, cold water, change the water twice. Set aside.

Put another kettle of water on the stove to boil. In another large bowl, pour the boiling water over the rice. Stir well, then rinse the rice under cold water. Add the tomatoes, onion, parsley, mint, cinnamon, and allspice to the rice. Stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

At this point, you are ready to stuff the grape leaves. Remove a leaf from the bowl and place it on a flat surface, vein side up. Blot it dry with a paper towel if it seems too wet. Place about 1 1/2 small spoonfuls of the rice mixture in the center of the leaf, near the stem end at the base of the leaf. Fold the stem end over the filling. Fold the sides of the leaf in towards the middle, and the roll the leaf upwards. Make sure the sides of the leaf continue to fold inward as you roll the leaf upwards. Repeat with the rest of the leaves. Set aside.

Mix the olive oil with 1 1/2 cups of water. Add the sugar and fresh lemon juice. Stir. Set aside.

Line the bottom of 2 large, high-sided sauté pans or one Dutch oven with the sliced tomatoes. Tightly pack the grape leaves into one layer, on top of the tomatoes. You can create a second layer of leaves if you need to. Slip the garlic cloves in between the rolls if desired.

Stir the olive oil/lemon juice mixture, and pour it over the leaves, evenly dividing the liquid between the pans if using more than one. Place a small plate on top of the leaves to prevent them from possibly unwinding. Cover the pans, set the heat to low, and simmer gently for about an hour. Roden’s book suggests adding small cups of water if the pans run out of liquid, but I did not have this problem. Cool the leaves in the pans before removing the rolls. Once completely cooled, you can refrigerate the rolls. Serve cold or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Comments (6) »

More Than Just Risotto: Cooking with Arborio Rice

Arborio rice is a staple in my pantry, but for years I used it sparingly, only hauling it out every once in a while to make risotto. And by “once in a while” I mean once or twice a year. Don’t get me wrong—I love risotto, but my poor arms can handle only so many upper body workouts, and all that stirring can be rather taxing on the biceps.

But in the past year I’ve started cooking with this short-grain Italian rice more often, for several reasons. First of all, it’s easier to prepare than longer-grain kernels, which I often seem to undercook or burn. With the Arborio variety, I just cover the rice with water, simmer it for 15 minutes, and finally drain it for whatever recipe I’m working with. Perhaps best of all, its high-starch content produces a creamy, moist texture that elevates simple dishes to divine. 

If you don’t believe me, take a look back at my Easter torta di riso or my stuffed Swiss chard leaves for proof. Or you can try cookbook author Viana La Place’s recipe for Lemony Rice-Parsley Salad that I found in Food & Wine a few months ago. I made it on Friday night, and my winning streak continued: As a dessert or main dish, Arborio rice has yet to fail me. 

La Place’s simple salad came together in under half an hour, perfect for a quick and healthy weeknight meal. While the rice cooked on the stovetop, I quickly chopped some parsley and pitted some briny black olives. After draining the cooked rice, I tossed everything together with olive oil, lemon juice, a bit of green pepper, and capers.

It was so easy I almost felt guilty calling it dinner. Luckily this sentiment was fleeting, as Jim and I enjoyed every bite of the supple, silky salad. It simply burst with the flavors of tangy capers, springy parsley, and lemon juice, all enhanced by the creamy texture of the rice and oil-cured olives.

As a result of these rice-related successes, a box of Arborio rice always sits towards the front of my pantry shelves. It is no longer relegated to the back of the cupboard, hiding out until a special occasion risotto dinner. I’m already planning on using it for Mark Bittman’s amazing Paella with Tomatoes later this week. That reminds me, I need to check and make sure that I have enough rice.

Comments (6) »

Cooking from the CSA: Swiss Chard

A few weeks ago the New York Times printed a list of the eleven best foods you aren’t eating. I hate lists like this, as they always make me feel guilty about whatever I’m doing wrong or not doing at all. Anyway, a quick scan down this lengthy manifesto confirmed that the Times was right: Few of the cited items make a consistent appearance in my kitchen. But as if sensing my personal shame, my CSA came to the rescue on Saturday by providing me with a beautiful, floppy-leafed, pink-ribbed bunch of Swiss chard (#3 on that darn list).

Like most greens, chard is full of healthy vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. I don’t have anything against cooking with it, but when left to my own devices I always seem to reach for a big bunch of broccoli rabe instead. Luckily, being a member of a CSA forces me to experiment with different vegetables and be more creative with my cooking. Not all of the recipes I try are winners, but on Sunday night I discovered Jack Bishop’s recipe for chard leaves stuffed with lemon rice.

The recipe is quite simple, resulting in a more Italian interpretation of stuffed Greek grape leaves. Chard leaves act as sweet wraps for the lemony and creamy rice, while fried sage adds an herby, crumbly crunch. The chard, although boiled briefly before rolling, retains its elasticity and flavor against the explosively sunny rice. Confronted with these packets of summer goodness, I became an immediate convert to the charm of chard.

So I can check Swiss chard off that list and assuage my guilt, because this versatile green will certainly pop up on my table often. I also wonder what else I can stuff into its leaves; perhaps a mixture of rice and lentils, or rice and crumbled sausage. Any other ideas? Let me know while I deal with the other 10 foods I haven’t been eating.

Recipe for Chard Leaves Stuffed with Lemon Rice (adapted from Jack Bishop’s April 5, 2000 recipe in the New York Times and his 2004 cookbook, A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen)

  • 8 large chard leaves, washed thoroughly and with the stems cut off at the bottom
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • juice squeezed from half a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 16 sage leaves

Add chard leaves to a large pot of salted, boiling water. Briefly cook the chard for about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, carefully transfer leaves to a clean kitchen towel. Lay leaves flat and blot dry with paper towels. Let them cool completely.

Cook the rice in the same boiling water you used for the chard. This will take about 15 minutes. Whisk the egg yolk, cheese, lemon zest, and lemon juice together in a bowl. 

When rice is cooked drain and then return it to the pot. Thoroughly stir in the egg mixture. Add 1 tablespoon butter, cover the pot, and set it aside for 1 minute. Stir. Cool the rice for 10 minutes.

Place a small amount of rice mixture at the widest end of the chard leaf (this will be at the bottom end of the leaf, where the stem was originally attached). You will have to use your judgment on how much rice you can fit into each leaf, as the size of each leaf will be different. Do not try and overstuff the leaf. Roll the chard leaf over and around the rice, tucking in the sides as you roll them.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sage leaves and sauté until browned. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Add the chard packets to the pan, seam side down, and sauté until lightly browned, turning them once. This will take about 4 minutes. Transfer the stuffed chard leaves to a serving platter and garnish with the sage leaves. Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish. Enjoy!

Comments (3) »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.