23 May 2008

Sundried Tomato and Fresh Basil Risotto

Before we begin, there are 2 things you need to know about risotto: you need the right rice and you have to stir the bujeebus out of it constantly. Okay, I've posted a cheater's version that involves less stirring at the bottom of this post, but you do need the right kind of rice. The rice should be nice and chubby. Typically, you will use an arborio rice, but other risotto rices are vialone nano and carnaroli. But really, unless you are a rice connoisseur, stick to the rice that is labeled 'risotto' and you'll do just fine.

Also, another culinary trick: when using fresh lemon, before you slice, place the lemon on a clean surface (say, your counter or cutting board), whack it really hard with the palm of your hand, and roll it back and forth a few times. This will squish up the lemony innards and make it easier to juice.

If you don't like sundried tomatoes or fresh basil, there are many variations on the traditional risotto, a few of which will be covered at the end of the recipe. As long as you get the gist of how risotto works, you should be able to make your own variations with no trouble.

Vegetable Stock: Boil 1/2-1 chopped onions, 1-2 large carrots, a few stalks of celery (and leaves -- this is a good way to use the leaves and heart of celery if you are the sort who doesn't like to eat them raw), and 1/2-1 tsp of a dried mixed herb blend (such as Italian herbs, herbs de province, generic herb blend, etc.) in 4-ish cups of water for 30-60 minutes. I'm being vague here because stock is ready when it start looking more colourful and rich and the herbs have started to mingle and it smells ready. I'll go over that in a future post about soups and stews.

Note: In this case, you will just be using the broth from the soup so set aside the veg for another project or keep a little broth with the veg, add a little tomato paste, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper to taste, and you have yourself a little tomato and veg stew. Bonus!

Sundried Tomato and Fresh Basil Prep: Chop up a wee handful of sundried tomatoes (I use scissors) and dump them in a small bowl or mug. Cover in boiling water and set aside to soak. Chop 1-2 tbsp (or more if you are really into it) of fresh basil leaves (again, I use scissors for the chopping) and dump them on top of the sundried tomatoes (do not stir, do not drain -- we are using the liquid from this in the rice because it is tasty).

Melt a couple knobs of margarine in the bottom of a pan on the higher end of low or the lower end of medium heat. Add your risotto rice and stir to coat. Add one ladle of vegetable stock (sans vegetables, like I said, we just want the broth) at a time, stirring until the stock is absorbed. This is going to take a while and your arm might get sore. Take a quick break from stirring to squeeze some lemon juice into the rice. Get back to ladling the stock and stirring the rice. The rice mixture should start to look creamy and begin to have a porridge-like consistency. Take a look at a grain of rice from the pan. Is the middle still white? If so, you aren't finished. Ladle, stir, repeat.
When your rice looks like it's almost finished, add the soaked sundried tomato and fresh basil mixture (liquid and all), a couple more knobs of margarine, another couple squeezes of lemon juice, and salt to taste. Stir well.

Portion out into bowls or plates and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil before serving.

A few notes -- if you don't fancy stirring your arm off, there is a way to cheat. Cook the rice in a little water or stock until it's al dente (there will still be a sliver of white in the middle of the rice grains and they will be 'firm to the bite') and then do the ladle & stirring trick until you're almost finished and follow the rest of the recipe from there.

This is not a low-fat recipe, but my goodness, is it delicious! If you wish to lower the fat content, use less margarine, drizzle with less olive oil, and use a teeny little bit more stock to make it wetter/creamier.

As an alternative to sundried tomato and fresh basil, you may wish to try [lemon zest, onion, and garlic] (add extra lemon juice to this recipe), [mushroom], [saffron and onion], [parsley and lemon zest] (add extra lemon juice to this recipe, too), etc. -- you get the idea.

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