Monday, October 18, 2010

Risotto with Kale and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

There are foods out there that are legendary for being challenges. Dishes that have a number of very precise steps, dishes with chemical reactions, and if one step goes astray the whole dish collapses on you. This is why I've never attempted a soufflĂ©. Or anything that requires a sheet of gelatin as an ingredient. For the longest time I have avoided a staple of Italian cooking, the risotto. 

Let's start with the fact that I just kinda suck at cooking rice. After the like 17th pot of either soggy or dry rice, I finally just broke down and bought a rice cooker. Risotto, however, is even more complicated. The scientific principal of regular rice is simple. Cook with water (or stock), let liquid absorb into rice, done. The types of rice used for risotto (most notably Arborio) has a kernel surrounded by a starch known as amlopectin. When this starch dissolves it makes the rices all soft and sticky, creating the creamy goodness risotto is known for. Sticking the rice into boiling water is not enough to create this effect, however. It can only be achieved by toasting the kernels, then stirring in liquid, a bit at a time, and letting it absorb before adding the next batch. This process can take anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes and you must stir constantly the entire time. I have been intimidated by the process, and more then that, I have been lazy. Man has invented stand mixers, hand mixers, and a variety of blenders all so we don't have to stir. "Stir constantly"... what is this, the 16th century?

A few nights ago I was crouched in front of my fridge, staring down a large bunch of kale. This leaf has been increasingly popping up in my culinary research, especially for a plant I was unable to identify two years ago. I needed a side dish for a leg of lamb, and I had purchased this large leafy bunch after being seduced by a sale last week. I took to the Google, and discovered the perfect recipe. It involved risotto. I may have walked away, except for one ingredient. Toasted pumpkin seeds. Suddenly this dish was seasonal. Suddenly I had a use for the bag of pumpkin seeds I bought for last week's recipe. I took a deep breath. Alright risotto. You win. It was time to face the challenge.

Not being experienced with this method, I turned to my Italian goddess, Marcella Hazan. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking offers a solid overview of risotto, walking though the process of creating a flavor base of sauteed onion, toasting the rice, and the gradual adding of liquid, as well the details of cooking the rice al dente (which can end up slightly chalky) to cooking it until it is slightly softer. Risotto "should be tender, but still firm to the bite."

Risotto with Kale and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Adapted the tiniest bit from Gourmet magazine

- 3 1/2cups low-sodium (or homemade) chicken broth
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 3/4 tsp plus 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 to 3/4 pounds green kale
- 1 1/4 cups finely chopped onion
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, separated
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 cups (or 10 oz) Arborio rice
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiana-Reggiano
- 1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds*

Bring broth and water to boil with 3/4 teaspoon of salt in a 3 to 4 quart saucepan. Meanwhile, tear the stems and center ribs from kale and discard. Adding in batches stir kale into broth and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer kale with tongs to a large sieve set over a bowl and gently press on greens to extract more liquid. Add liquid in bowl to simmering broth and keep at a bare simmer, covered. Chop kale.

Cook onion in oil and 1 Tbsp butter with remaining 1/4 tsp salt in a wide 4 quart heavy pot, covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened about 5 minutes. Increase heat to moderate, then add garlic and cook, uncovered, stirring, 1 minute. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth and simmer, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is creamy-looking and the consistency of a thick soup. Start tasting after 20 minutes, it may take more like 25 minutes to get it where you want it. There will most likely be leftover broth.

Stir in kale, cheese, and remaining Tbsp of butter and cook, stirring, until heated through and butter is incorporated, about 1 minute. Season risotto with sea salt and pepper. If you feel the risotto is too thick, you can thin with some of the remaining broth. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and serve.

* To toast pumpkin seeds: toss 1/2 cup of raw pumpkin seeds with about 1/2 tsp of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread on baking sheet and bake at 375°F for 4 to 5 minutes.

This dish was deep, creamy, and exactly how I wanted it to be. The crunchy seeds gave texture to this softer dish. One thing that surprised me was how amazing the risotto was the next day. I'm used to rice that dries out and loses all flavor when stored overnight, this retained its moisture so beautifully and the flavor was deepens with the extra time. I love a dish that produces leftovers for my weekday lunches. And not only can I add this dish to my repertoire, I have opened the door to all risottos, a whole spectrum of dishes I had previously shied away from. Pandora's box has been opened and it's evils have been released...and by evils, I mean deliciousness.  Maybe its time to reconsider my stance on the soufflĂ©..

No comments:

Post a Comment