Sunday, August 28, 2011

Starch Is Friend, Not Foe

The seasons are a funny thing in the South.  It's almost September, and I feel like I should start transitioning into fall.  But you see, fall in South Carolina doesn't mean cooler temperatures and pretty falling leaves.  It's hot.  I've seen Thanksgivings with temps in the upper 70s.  Of course I've been to Carolina games in October and frozen my behind off (no easy task, mind you), so there's just no guarantee what the weather will be like on any given day.  I don't think that's a complaint, just how it is.

I thoroughly enjoy fall flavors.  Pumpkin, sweet potatoes, warm spices, pumpkin, squash, pears, pumpkin.  It's a wonder I don't turn orange by November.  I feel like we're in a transitional period, so I wanted a dish that reflected moving from summer to fall.

Mushroom-corn risotto.  Ta-da!  Baby portobellos give the risotto an earthy quality that's reminiscent of autumn.  The white corn is one of the last vestiges of summer.  Together, they make an interesting risotto that's not quite fall, not quite summer.

The ingredients are pretty simple.  Arborio rice, chicken broth, white wine, onion, mushrooms, corn, and parmesan.  I used frozen corn because we have a boatload of it in the freezer, but if the corn is still good at your grocer or farmer's market, use it.

Start by sautéing half a medium onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Let the onion get translucent.

Slice four ounces of mushrooms.  I used baby portobellos because they have a meaty quality without being...meat.

Toss the mushrooms in with the onions and let them brown up.

Heat 3 cups of chicken broth to a boil.  Turn the heat to low and keep it warm.

The mushrooms and the onions will get brown and look like autumn just smacked you in the face.

Add a cup of arborio rice and stir the rice around to coat it in the olive oil.  Let it toast for about 3 minutes.  Arborio rice is super-starchy, which will make for a creamy dish without actual cream.

The rice will turn kind of translucent while it toasts in the pan.

Add 1/2 a cup of white wine and stir the rice mixture until all the liquid is absorbed.  This is what risotto is about: adding liquid and letting it absorb in stages.

You can already see the starches starting to work.

Add chicken broth a ladleful at a time, stirring and letting the broth absorb before adding more.  See the creaminess from the starch?  Magical.

When about half the broth has been added and absorbed, stir in two cups of corn.  Yeah, I went a little corn-crazy.

Add the rest of the chicken broth and stir until rice is cooked but still has a little bite to it.

A knob of butter and a scant cup of parmesan cheese round out the flavors.  Give it a taste and decide if it needs any salt.  Crack some pepper over it for good measure.

I served it with radicchio I roasted in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Simple but effective.  Radicchio is part of the chicory family, and it has a slight bitter taste to it.  Cooking it takes the bitterness out, though I found the outer leaves to still have a bitter bite.  I think turning it over and letting it roast a few minutes would take care of that.  Drizzle with a little balsamic vinaigrette and you've got a simple, wholesome meal.  This makes enough risotto for four people to eat as a main course, but you could easily serve it as a side with roast chicken if you really miss having meat on the plate.

Mushroom-Corn Risotto (serves 4-6)

2 tbs olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 c white wine
3 c chicken broth
2 c corn
2 tbs butter
1 scant cup freshly grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Heat chicken broth in a saucepan until boiling.  Turn heat to low and keep chicken broth warm.
  • Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pan with high sides.  Add onion and sauté until translucent.  Add mushrooms and cook until brown.  Add rice and coat the grains with the olive oil in the pan.  Toast 3 minutes, until they turn translucent.
  • Add wine and stir until absorbed.  When wine is fully absorbed, ladle in chicken broth about 1/4 cup at a time.  Stir rice until each addition is fully absorbed.  Rice should begin to look creamy as the starches release.  When about half the broth has been used, add corn and cook 2-3 minutes.  Add the rest of the chicken broth, stirring until the rice is just al dente.  Add butter and parmesan and stir.  Top with fresh parmesan.  Serve immediately.