Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Recipe: Risotto with Tomato and Goat Cheese

Risotto gets a bad rap as a laborious and time-consuming dish, but the truth is, I secretly enjoy making it. Maybe it has something to do with the the fast pace and busy workload of a typical weekday, but I find that the whole process of infusing hot liquid into rice is incredibly relaxing. For twenty minutes, all I have to do is stand in front of the stove, wait, and occasionally stir. The best part? At the end, I get to enjoy a creamy, rich risotto.

I almost always have Arborio rice in my cupboard, but I rarely have chicken stock. For a long time, this kept me from making risotto as often as I'd like. For some reason, it never occurred to me that a quick vegetable stock - or even hot water! - could create risotto equally as well as chicken stock. A couple of weeks ago, I read a Mark Bittman article on how easy it is to make risotto with any hot liquid. Lacking chicken stock (as usual), I decided to take his advice and make garlic stock.

I was surprised at how well it turned out - it had a depth of flavor that I wasn't expecting from something so simple to throw together. I didn't miss the chicken stock one bit. To finish my risotto I decided to stir in tomatoes cooked down with herbs, then goat cheese instead of butter for a creamy texture. The result was a fresh, summery risotto which - let's be honest - was just as fun to make as it was to eat.

Risotto with Tomato and Goat Cheese
10-12 cloves garlic, crushed
5-6 small tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup olive oil
Small handful basil, mint, or tarragon, chopped roughly and divided in half
1 medium onion, diced finely
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 tbsp butter (optional)
3-4 tbsp goat cheese

Set a large pot of 7-8 cups of water to boil. Throw in 9-10 cloves garlic - crush them, but don't bother to peel - and a little onion if you'd like. Once water has begun to boil, season with salt and pepper.

Boil for at least thirty minutes or until fragrant. Strain solids out, pressing with a wooden spoon, and return liquid to a low simmer. This will be the stock for your risotto.

While stock is cooking, bring a smaller pot of water to boil. Score the bottom of each tomato with an X.

Immerse whole tomatoes in boiling water just until skins begin to peel away, about thirty seconds. Transfer tomatoes to a waiting ice bath and allow to cool for a few moments.

Peel away skins, then quarter tomatoes.

In a small saucepan, heat olive oil over moderate heat. Add garlic; saute briefly, then add tomatoes and half of the fresh herbs.

Keep on a low simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are soft, at least 20 minutes.

Strain out all the oil and reserve; set aside tomato solids for later. The oil, now infused with tomatoes and herbs, will be the base for your risotto.

Your tomatoes and garlic stock should finish at about the same time. Once garlic stock has been strained and returned to a simmer, reheat the reserved tomato oil over medium heat in a large enameled pot.

Add diced onion. Saute for at least 6-8 minutes, or until onion begins to soften.

Stir in rice; cook for a couple of minutes until rice is well coated in oil.

Season with salt and pepper. Deglaze pot with the white wine and stir until well mixed.

Once the wine has dissolved, begin adding the simmering garlic stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently. Allow the stock to absorb fully before adding the next half cup, working slowly. Do not allow the rice to get too dry or it may scorch.

Begin tasting the rice after all the stock has been absorbed, or after about 20-25 minutes of cooking. The risotto will be ready when the texture is similar to al dente pasta; the very center of the rice grain should be firm. You do not want to allow it to get too soggy. 

Once the rice is ready, stir in 1 tbsp butter along with the rest of your chopped fresh herbs, the reserved tomato mixture, and the goat cheese.

Stir well to mix and to ensure the cheese melts properly. Salt and pepper again to taste, then divide onto plates. Top with a little grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese.

Truth be told, I like any risotto, but the goat cheese in this particular recipe imparts a creaminess which I absolutely love. With the garlic stock and the tomato-infused olive oil at its base, this risotto has a lovely depth of flavor which is brightened by the fresh tomatoes and herbs.

The results of my garlic stock experiment are clear: easy, quick, and even better than chicken stock. Never again will I skip out on making risotto just because I don't have chicken stock in my pantry!

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