Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Risotto of Perfection.

Many years ago I used to live in Victoria with two darling girls who are both still darling friends. We used to pretend Michelle was our house cleaner (odd, but we thought it was funny) and Pia loved vinyl records, singing the Rent Soundtrack, and cooking with me (just to name three out of one million loves of hers). My favourite things that we made were her grandmother’s mango curry (via telephone, in real time, between Victoria and Bangalore, India!), a yummy Italian sausage and chick pea soup, maple syrup baked beans on toast with fried eggs, and lastly, risotto!! I happily passed my strict instructions on how to make a pancetta and mushrooms risotto on to her, and we now inform each other whenever we make it. Apparently she and her grandmother, on a recent visit to Canada from India, got to make our risotto together! Full circle!

And this afternoon, I got to write my old friend a note reporting that I had made risotto for dinner - for the first time in perhaps two or three years. A momentous day!!

Yesterday I was watching my new current favourite television show, Dinner Party Wars (I was in serious procrastination mode as it is final exam time again), and one of the many quirky/totally random guests made risotto for dinner. It’s something that hadn’t been on my radar for a while, having spent the summer thinking about the barbeque and fruit and the last bit of fall obsessed with squash*. Being a wet, gray day in the middle of the exam period I deserved a delicious, warming meal and was more than happy to invest an hour of stirring!

Risotto happens to be one of my very favourite things to make; I get huge satisfaction out of turning a bag of rice into a pot of smooth goodness just by stirring in chicken stock. I am also the first to admit, as done so earlier, that I am a strict risotto cook. I insist that the stock is added in small half cup doses, that the risotto is stirred almost constantly, the liquid is allowed to be fully absorbed before adding more, and that no cream is to be added! What happens is the outer bit of the rice absorbs the stock, which breaks it down and naturally creates the creamy texture. My way is totally different from in a restaurant where it may be made classically, stored for a day or two, then when an order comes in it has to be heated with cream to recreate the what happens naturally. My way definitely takes an hour of standing over a hot stove but it is more than worth it... This dish makes me swoon every time.

So risotto was on the menu for last night, as was a flank steak I had won at the meat draw at the Rendezvous Pub in Langley on Friday night (!) and whatever vegetables I could find in the back of the crisper (which turned out to be not many – old green beans and carrots).
Flank steak is a thin side cut of meat and needs to be marinated for quite a while before cooked at a super high heat and left slightly red in the centre. If you do it right, it’s tender and flavourful all the way through. A total treat and not as heavy as regular sirloin. I love it. I would usually marinate it in asian flavours: sesame oil, lime juice, soy, garlic, but that wasn’t going to work last night. To complement the mellowing creaminess of the rice, I put it in some dijon mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, and a big handful of rosemary and left it for the time it took to go to a yoga class.

*all measurements are approximate because I never, ever measure when I make this.

• 1 big, finely chopped white onion
• 4 or 5 finely chopped heads of garlic
• Cremini mushrooms, sliced (I used maybe 3 cups??)
• ¼ cup red wine (optional)
• 1 cup of Arborio rice (Depends on how much leftovers you want!! I also cannot give you strict rice to stock ratios as I have no idea. You have to constantly be tasting and checking the texture.)
• Approximately 1 litre of stock (may take more or less) (you can use whatever kind of stock you like – this is your opportunity to make the dish fully vegetarian or not at all) (lastly, please use a good quality stock with no salt added. This will make a huge difference in your final product)
• 1 cup parmesan cheese
• Lots of salt and pepper (salt is risottos best friend! Well, at least three-way-best-friends with parmesan...)

How you do it:
Set a medium sized saucepan onto a burner and put your stock in on very low heat; allow to warm.

Sauté your onion in some olive oil in a large saucepan, and once it starts to get fragrant add the garlic. Allow it to brown slightly, which may take ten or so minutes.

At this point add your sliced cremini mushrooms and maybe a hit of red wine and let everything cook for a while. Liquid is going to come out of the mushrooms after a while, but just let it cook away. This is only going to encourage more flavour in them and the onions.

When nearly all of the liquid is cooked off, add the Arborio rice and cook, while stirring, for a while. You want it to absorb some of the liquid and they should start to look translucent with a spot of white in the centre.

Now you may begin to add the warmed stock, half a cup at a time (if it is cold, it will hit the hot pan and immediately evaporate – not what you want. If it is warm, it will be slowly absorbed by the rice.)

The procedure should be as follows: ladle in the stock, and stir. Not some wimpy little circling about, but a serious stir to get everything in your pot moving around. You can also scrape down the sides once in a while. Stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. At this point you can set down your spoon for a minute or two to continue with the rest of your dinner if you need to, but not too long! Once that half cup has been absorbed, add another half cup. If you run out of stock, use warm water.

Your rice is finished when you taste it and it has an al dente texture: the outside should be soft and broken down, and the centre should have a slight bite to it. When you reach this point, stop adding stock and stir in your parmesan cheese and lots of salt and pepper. The rice has provided the texture of your dish, and these last three ingredients are going to boost its natural flavour until making it AMAZING!


Serve hot with the flank steak that was seared on the hottest barbeque you can get your hands on for only two or three minutes per side – please do not cut into it to test doneness! Allow the steak to rest fully (the juices need to calm down after that hot, hot heat!) by putting it on a cutting board and covering with aluminum foil for ten minutes.
Maybe you are also going to serve it with those vegetables you found in the back of your fridge, steamed and served with butter, pepper, and some salt with black truffles that your boyfriend’s mom brought back from England for you. Just to dress them up a bit.

We ate this last night in utter silence. You know it’s a good meal when no one says anything and just eats and tastes and loves the food.

*I once made a squash risotto and it turned out to be bright orange. Palatable but totally unappetizing. Don’t try.


  1. i will forever associate risotto with you. also 'teen wolf'. two of my very favourite things! and my grandmother, who is a tough nut to crack, said that the risotto was "nice", which, coming from her, is a hearty endorsement, two thumbs up.

  2. also:
    'When Justin met Kelly' vs. 'Glitter'