I wouldn't mind if I didn't see a grain of rice for a good long while. Of course that isn't likely since I way overbought the Arborio rice I needed to compete in the Just Food Risotto Challenge at Jimmy's No. 43 on Saturday. (Plus, I'm half Korean [speaking of which, check out Hapa Kitchen, so awesome!] and rice is just in my blood. I'll likely be craving it by next week or so. *update:I ate some tonight.)
My risotto was named Ohhh Sooo Slow Risotto (thanks, Bettina!), and now you must've gleaned from this post's title that... I won!! Well, I was awarded 3rd place in the official judges' round, but took home grand prize for People's Choice. Totally unexpected, and stupendously exciting.
Here's the story, from dubious beginning to glorious end.
Slow Risotto was the first thing I thought of -- a risotto based on one of my favorite crostinis: slow roasted tomatoes layered with garlic and parsley (Pomodori al Forno via Molly Wizenberg) topped with Bûcheron (aged goat cheese). I'd recently read what I considered a riveting blog post about caramelized onions (calling it the "bacon of the vegetarian world") and the idea for the dish slowly came together. I wanted to keep the dish vegetarian and since I haven't been very pleased with the commercial stocks I use in everyday cooking, I decided to make my own. I found this recipe for roasted vegetable stock and modified it to add more vegetables and flavor.
Being the ultimate procrastinator that I am, I waited until 3 nights before the challenge to practice my dish. By this point, Karol (a cookoff organizer) needed my recipe name and key ingredient list, which I sent without trying the recipe at all. The slow-roasted stock, tomatoes and caramelized onions took sooo long that they were all I could accomplish that night, and I dumped them into some Carnaroli rice the night after. Outcome: not so good. Too oily, missing some flavor component, just blah. Jef and some friends agreed. I was disappointed, figuring I had no time to think of something new and having no idea how to fix my off-the-cuff dish. I thought and thought, even asked the good people of Serious Eats for help. 22 kind folks responded to my cry, but I still didn't know how to fix my gloppy mess.
I dug in my heels and kept trudging onward. I spent Friday afternoon at the Union Square Greenmarket looking for inspiration, but as you know, produce isn't abundant yet -- there were fat asparagus stalks and magenta-tinged rhubarb aplenty, but nothing I could stir into my risotto to make it a winning dish. I bought some herbs and a cider doughnut, which I ate as I strolled around the aisles of nearby Whole Foods. $43 later, I left there with some walnuts, cheese (Bûcheron & gorgonzola dolce), and a tiny bottle of white truffle oil...I was getting desperate!
Off to Chelsea Market. First stop: Manhattan Fruit Exchange. This place is awesome for buying fruits and veggies when the Greenmarket doesn't have what you need and your CSA hasn't started yet. Varieties galore, and great prices. I picked up my veggies for the stock and some big, sweet onions. Next, Buon Italia, which holds a special place in my heart since I first tasted white truffles there years ago, sliced over risotto, scrambled eggs, ravioli, bruschetta, and more. Heaven on a white paper plate. This time I left with heavy bags of Arborio and Carnaroli rice, some wild red rice (colored from the clay in the ground), dried oregano still on the stalk, a gigantic 5 1/2 lb. can of cherry tomatoes, and several blocks of quality aged Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Friday night was spent making the slow roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions. They take soooo long. I watched old episodes of Grey's Anatomy I hadn't seen. Bed at 2:30 A.M. and I hadn't even started the stock.
Up at 8:00. Roasted veggies for stock, took Mia for a walk, went to the store for more Bûcheron, which I didn't even need; I was just nervous. Drank a huge iced coffee. Started my three pans of rice...muttering and messes ensued. Rice grains and tomatoes on floor. Juicer spazzing out of control.
All told, I made 2 batches of the risotto (3 pots per batch) and spread the rice out on sheet pans to cool after I'd added in the tomatoes and onions (squeezed out extra oil; this was key - I think excess oil was why my test batch didn't turn out great). I crumbled in the aged goat cheese, and a small amount of grated Parm-Reg. Sprinkled in a little smoked paprika (but left out the truffle oil). Toasted some walnuts, chopped some parsley, baked 4 or 5 batches of parmesan crisps, and bottled some hot broth in thermoses. Quick shower, packed everything up and enlisted two studs to help me carry everything. Frazzled, but on time so that helped me to breathe easier. We arrived at Jimmy's 15 min. before I needed to be there to set up. Ahhhh.
Fun time had by all. And $1800 raised for Just Food! Thanks so much to wonderfully successful organizers Cathy Erway and Karol Lu, as well as the amazing judges Mark Bello, Zach Brooks, and Erin Zimmer. Many thanks also to Sylva and Nick for the pictures!
I think it's interesting that my risotto recipe process shows how most of my cooking inspiration comes from food blogs these days. Overall, I was happy with my dish. The rice was al dente (a little too much so, according to some, but I was just relieved it wasn't mushy); the stock was flavorful; the tomatoes were winy and slightly tart, onions were sweet and slippery; cheese was pungent and cut through richness; walnuts, parsley, and parmesan crisps were delicious garnishes.
For a full recount of the event, check out another favorite blog, Not Eating Out in New York, where Cathy recaps it all. I've posted the (lengthy) recipe below; feel free to scale down.
Ohhh Sooo Slow Risotto
makes 3 gallons (!)
Roasted vegetable stock, recipe below
Leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced
Arborio or Carnaroli rice
Dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
Slow-roasted tomatoes, recipe below
Caramelized onions, recipe below
Aged goat cheese (preferably crumbly, such as Bûcheron)
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Parmesan crisps, recipe below
Roasted Vegetable Stock
2 lbs. cremini mushrooms, halved
1 lb. shallots, quartered
1 1/2 lbs. carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 fennel bulbs, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, halved
handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs (including long stems)
fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dry white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
3 bay leaves
1 quart water
2 teaspoons salt
Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss together vegetables, herbs (except bay leaves), and oil in a flameproof roasting pan. Roast, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, approximately 45 minutes.
Transfer vegetables to a large saucepan. Straddle roasting pan across 2
burners, then add wine and deglaze pan by gently boiling over moderate
stirring and scraping up brown bits, 2 minutes. Transfer liquid to
saucepan and add bay leaves, water, and salt. Bring to a boil,
then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 45
minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour stock through a large fine-mesh
sieve into a bowl,
pressing hard on solids to release juices. I then took the vegetables
and put them through my juicer to extract even more juice. This step
is totally unnecessary; in fact, I think it caused more mess than it
cup olive oil, divided
90 oz. can cherry tomatoes (use fresh plum tomatoes in summer!), tomatoes halved lengthwise and juices stored for another use
2 teaspoons dried oregano (I found dried oregano on the stalk, lovely)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
Reserve oil in baking dish and layer tomatoes in a medium-sized glass bowl, sprinkling garlic and parsley over each layer. Drizzle tomatoes with reserved oil. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours.
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 large sweet onions
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large non-stick saute pan. Slice the onions into various-sized slices and add them to the pan, sprinkling with salt, making sure all onions are coated with oil (add more if necessary). Cook over medium to medium-high, stirring often, for about an hour or more, until onions have greatly reduced in size and are a deep brown. Some burned bits are a plus.
2 large blocks of Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.
On the biggest holes of a box grater, grate cheese. A tablespoonful at a time, pile cheese onto lined baking sheet, keeping a little space between each pile. Tap each pile down to flatten so that the crisps don't become chewy rather than crispy. Bake 6-8 minutes, until bubbly and golden. Let cool on pan for a few minutes.
Freshly minced parsley
**I made the rice in 2-cup batches per pot (3 pots going simultaneously). Instructions below given for 1 pot, loose measurements.
Gently simmer stock (about 6 cups, to be safe) so that it's hot when you add it to the rice.
Heat 2 Tbsp. butter over medium heat, add 1/2 cup sliced leeks. Saute for 8 or so minutes, until soft. Add 2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice. Toast for 2 minutes, then add 1/2 cup dry white wine. Stir gently until all liquid has evaporated. Add 1 1/2 cups hot stock and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until liquid has evaporated. Add 3/4 cup more stock, and repeat the process until the rice grains have absorbed an optimal amount of stock -- the risotto will be creamy ("wavy," as Italians say) and when you bite a grain, it will be tender, but with a bite in the middle (the center should be bright white). This will take about 45 minutes or so and the amount of stock used will differ.
Add a few handfuls of well-drained slow roasted tomatoes (with garlic and parsley), a big ladleful of caramelized onions (oil squeezed out), and a few ounces of crumbled aged goat cheese; stir gently to combine. Sprinkle with a small amount of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a teeny tiny sprinkle of smoked paprika. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley, toasted walnuts, and a parmesan crisp. Devour.