Carrot risotto? Carrot? Risotto? Carrot???
Yeah, dig it.
After getting back from Italy, I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that I’m like a little girl who just discovered something. Remember, girls, when you were six and decided you loved horses? And then you had to have horse bedsheets and would draw horses all over your textbook covers and thought the name “Wildfire” was totally awesomely cool and you’d read everything you could get your hands on about horses and would watch horsie-TV and didn’t care about what happened to Bonnie Blue Butler because she was a spoiled prig but cried because Rhett shot her pony?
…maybe that was just me…
So now I’m immersed in at-home Italian. I’m watching movies and trying to remember the Italian names for things, and I’m pondering the ways in which I can make the outside of my house look maintained and swanky but maybe a little beat up (a la Venice). I’ve also been furiously searching the internet for Italian dishes to make at home, even though it’s not like I need any more random recipes hanging around my kitchen. I was kind of on the hunt for some kind of fava bean risotto somethingorother, but I wasn’t in the mood for asparagus and I didn’t feel like reinventing a recipe as I went along and every single recipe I came across called for fava and asparagus, fava and asparagus. I understand the inclination to put spring vegetables together, but meh, I wasn’t having it. My crazed, currently obsessive search for risotto led me to this recipe and I gave it a resounding hell, yes! In the interests of full disclosure, I did stick almost entirely to the recipe except, I didn’t have fresh thyme so I used dried, and put it in when I sauteed the vegetables. The wine I used was a nice, crisp Orvieto and even though the recipe doesn’t call for it, you should top each serving with a little–not much, just enough for contrast and interest–finely chopped fresh parsley. You won’t regret it.
Anyway. To the carrots!
The recipe calls for six medium carrots but for some reason my store was only selling monsters; four did nicely. Now. Cut them all into a relatively small dice.
And how hard have I been working?
Saute the carrots in some butter and a tablespoon of oil until they are caramelized. I almost never measure out my oil by the tablespoon but as I am newly the proud owner of the cutest measuring spoons in all of creation, I had to use them.
Yes, so, saute. The carrots do take a while to caramelize, so make sure you give yourself ample time for this recipe. But once they start to get all glisteny and take on spots of brown…
…divide them. One half goes in a blender, one half is set aside for later use. The portion in the blender gets…wait for it…blended!..with hot water into a nice, loose puree (the texture should be somewhere between paste and and a thick soup), and then also, but much more temporarily, set aside.
Risotto, for those who have never cooked it (and frankly, for those who have), can be a bit of a pain in the ass. You need to use a rice with a high starch content that can absorb a lot of liquid and will also retain some kind of “al dente” quality, because who wants a plate of dried out yet gooey mush-rice? Not this girl. Arborio is probably the risotto rice that’s most readily available–hell, I can easily find it in the wilds of central PA–but I understand you can also make a lovely risotto with carnaroli or vialone. Some day, I’ll try them all.
The starch content of the rice is particularly important for risotto because drawing it out of the rice is what gives the dish its creamy quality. So what you’ve got to do to get this going is…well, of course get some onions and garlic, and my errant thyme, cooking in a pan with a little more butter and oil, and once they’re nicely softened, add the rice. You want to saute that until two things happen: one, the rice will start to turn somewhat more translucent, and you only see a small spot of solid white in the middle of the grain, and two, the rice will start to exude some of its starch; you’ll see trails of it when you push the rice back in the pan.
The recipe says this should take about a minute, I say it should take a little longer. Just wait until it’s ready, and then stir in your wine and, after about a minute, the carrot puree.
Yeah, it looks a little bit, at first, like you dumped a jar of baby food on your rice. Get over it. Soon it will be deliciously savory and you will thank the heavens that this made its way to your kitchen. But first…
Remember all that talk of “exuding starch” so the risotto can have a “creamy quality”? Well. This is when that magic happens…but it doesn’t happen quickly, or on its own. You need a pot of warm stock and some patience, and you pour the stock in a little at a time, and you stir, and stir, and stir. As the stock is absorbed, the starch will come out of the rice and you’ll have a lovely pot full of deliciousness. It should probably take about twenty more minutes, so if you have a risotto stirrer, now’s the time to bust it out. It should look something like this:
Yes, yes, yes. It certainly helps to have a boyfriend whose OCD manifests in an uncontrollable desire to stir things on the stovetop. Anyway. Keep stirring away until the rice is done; theoretically, you’ll also have used up all your cooking liquid as well but the determinant is whether your rice is ready. You may need more liquid, you may need less, but you want a nice, loose, creamy risotto that isn’t super-sticky or looks dry or gooey.
Mix in your cheese and then adjust for seasonings. You shouldn’t season your risotto with salt too heavily when you start cooking, since you’re going to incorporate cheese into the dish. Pre-seasoned risotto could turn inedibly salty if you go overboard early. Just wait and see how it tastes at the end. And then put it on your dish, garnish with a little more cheese and some parsley, and…
If this isn’t a happy, sunshiny-looking dish, I don’t know what is. Maybe it’s not exactly “traditional” Italian food (I confess, I’m a little intimidated by the idea of making cacio e pepe…it’s only three ingredients, what if I screw it up? There’s no recipe rescue to be found in that case…), but it is a celebration of rice and cheese, and it’s straightforward ingredients that are cooked in a way that maximizes their inherent deliciousness. And that? Is pretty Italian indeed. Enjoy!