Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Real Southern Queen - Mushroom Risotto with Sherry and Cream

Yesterday, which was Sunday, I managed to complete my shopping at both BJ's and Publix, which was quite an accomplishment given the fibro flare that tackled me, wrestled me to the ground, and totally stole my Saturday. I always check out their cookbooks; can't help it.  Lately the pickings have been scarce, but yesterday I hit the jackpot when I found Paula Deen's newest book, Paula Deen Cuts the Fat.

I had planned on purchasing this book about two years ago, before all the trouble happened.  When "it" hit the fan, the publishing company dumped the project in a burst of knee-jerk political correctness. Paula pulled herself back up, marshaled her resources, and self-published.  It happens to be a lovely book and the recipes are very, very good, and I am thrilled to finally own it.

And that's all I'm going to say about that, except to add that the American media, as well as a good part of the public, are still terrified by powerful, successful women. That is why, in 2015, we still have never been led by a woman President, although many other nations got past that stupidity a long time ago.  That's why Martha Stewart went to prison (albeit a short sentence), why Hillary Clinton lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to an inexperienced, opportunistic senator from Illinois, and why Paula Deen was treated like a 19th century leper for admitting to saying a certain word, in the privacy of her home, over 25 years ago, in referring to the bank robber who stuck a gun in her face.  If Carly Fiorina starts to rise even more in the polls, look out for vultures.

Now that I got that out of my system, let me say that we had a nice dinner last night including the 5776 Brisket, and the Mushroom Risotto, which is today's recipe. But before that , just at sundown, I drizzled some honey on a few slices of the challah I'd bought earlier at Publix (the Florida version of Waldbaum's) so Rob and I could celebrate our wish for the sweetness of the New Year.

Today, I had hoped to work on the okra fritter, and went so far as to blanch the whole okra pods, but my fibro flare was apparently not done with me yet, and I am back on my ass, hoping the pain will cop a walk, at least long enough for me to get something done.  Besides the okra fritters, I am hoping to try out a recipe for Lemon Zucchini Muffins. Right now, I couldn't stand long enough to grate the zucchini anymore than I could do Zumba. Ibuprofen, do your stuff!

Despite a reputation of mystical proportions, risotto is not difficult to prepare.  In fact, if you can make Rice-a-Roni, you can make risotto.  The only difference in the preparation is that for risotto, instead of adding your liquid, covering your pan and walking away, you have to add the liquid incrementally - about a half a cup at a time - and stir into the rice until absorbed.

Now a couple of observations - risotto is, to this Jewish cook, a bit like preparing kasha varnishkes.  Pretty easy, not too many ingredients, but requiring multiple pots to put it all together.  Risotto also falls into that category of recipes Alton Brown refers to as "refrigerator velcro" - dishes like omelets and gratins - in which the only limit to creativity is the contents of your fridge.  The basic risotto only requires some broth, a small amount of onion cooked in butter or oil, and the most important ingredient, Arborio rice.  The finished dish is different than any other rice dish you have probably ever eaten.  It is rich and creamy and comforting.  I love long grain rice in all it's permutations, from plain buttered to Savannah red, and I also adore Asian sticky rice, but if you've never eaten risotto, you've never really eaten rice. The best risotto I ever tasted was in Bologna, Italy, over Thanksgiving of 2004.  A curried seafood version which I have managed to recreate at home.  I wouldn't even mind it as my Last Meal, should I ever require the need for a Last Meal.

My favorite risotto is a mushroom risotto, however, and this dish manages to elevate the humble white button mushroom to new heights.  You can certainly use shittakes, which I love but tend to avoid because they are usually seriously overpriced, and I would also avoid portobellos and their Cousin Cremini.  I have lots of good things to do with Bella and Cremini, but they are too assertive for this otherwise delicate dish.

1 tablespoon butter
8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced
kosher salt
ground black pepper
dried thyme
1/2 cup dry sherry (not cooking sherry)
1/2 cup light or heavy cream
6-8 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup minced sweet onion or shallots
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

First, prepare the mushrooms:  in a skillet over moderate heat, melt the butter; add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until soft.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Turn the heat to high and add the sherry.  Cook until reduced by half, then lower the heat and add the cream.  Cook another five minutes until mixture has thickened somewhat.  Take off the heat and set aside.

Next, bring the stock to a bare simmer and hold it there. Taste it to determine the level of salt and let that be your guide for adding salt to the risotto.

And now, because you haven't already used a bunch of pots and pans, heat the butter and oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes, but do not allow the onions to brown.  Add the rice to the same pot and using a wooden spoon, stir for one minute, just until the rice grains are well coated with the butter and oil.  Don't cook the rice any longer than one minute.  Now start adding the simmering broth, about one-half cup at a time.  Stir to prevent sticking, and wait until each addition of stock is almost completely absorbed before adding the next half cup.

When most of the stock is used up, and the rice is tender, add the mushroom-sherry mixture, the Parmesan cheese, and the parsley.  Stir well to completely combine with the rice.

Finally, if you like, stir in a tablespoon or two of butter and/or cream.  Serve immediately. You can reheat leftovers in the microwave with pretty decent results.  If you have any leftovers.

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