Saturday, February 27, 2010

Carrot and Ginger Risotto

Yesterday was one of those rare days when I had nothing to do.  A friend who was coming to stay with us last night ended up changing his plans, and since I had requested the day off from work anyway, I ended up with the afternoon and evening free.  With the luxury of time, I decided to try my hand at Thomas Keller's soffritto recipe from the Ad Hoc Cookbook.  It's a great book filled with tons of practical recipes that you can actually make at home, but many of them take a lot of time to do them justice.  It seemed like the perfect opportunity, and one that wouldn't likely come again anytime soon.

A soffritto is any combination of slowly fried vegetables commonly used in Italian and Latin American cooking.  The most basic recipe includes onions and olive oil, but tomatoes seem to be a common theme as well.  Many Latin American soffrittos also include peppers, both sweet and spicy, as well as a variety of other seasonings.  Italian versions are often made with celery and carrots in addition to onions.  I had some carrots and a little ginger root in the fridge, so I thought, why not?  It's a common enough flavor combination that always yields delicious results.

The trick to a proper soffritto is to cook the veggies in a little bit of oil at as low a heat as possible for a really long time on the stove top.  Keller's recipe suggests five hours!  The vegetables eventually give up their water in the the bath of slowly simmering oil, becoming more concentrated.  After several hours, they caramelize and form a richly flavored paste.  Keller suggests making a big batch of it and freezing it or keeping it in the fridge for use over the course of a week.  The depth of flavor that it added to my risotto was remarkable.  Read on for the recipe...

Carrot and Ginger Rissotto
serves 2 for a main course or 4 for a first course

for the soffritto:
4 or 5 good sized carrots, peeled and diced
1 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 Bay leaf
1 clove
2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil

for the risotto:
2/3 cup Arborio or other short grained rice
1/4 cup white wine or dry vermouth
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cream
aged balsamic vinegar if desired
chopped Italian parsley or cilantro if desired
salt and pepper

make the soffritto 
  1. Heat oil over very low heat in a sauce pan or small Dutch oven.
  2. When the oil begins to simmer, add the carrot, ginger, garlic, onion, Bay leaf, clove, and ground coriander.  Lightly salt them to help exude their water.
  3. Set the timer for five hours and let it sit on the stove.  Check it every now and then to make sure that it is not burning.  The heat should be at the lowest setting that your range allows.
  4. You'll know it's done when the oil is clear and the vegetables have turned into a paste.
make the risotto
  1. In the same pot, add the rice, water, and wine/vermouth to the soffritto.  Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any brown bits that have adhered to the bottom of the pan.
  2. Bring to a rolling boil, and then reduce heat to medium low.
  3. Let the rice simmer, covered on the stove for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Finish the dish by stirring in butter, cream, and cheese.  Correct seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Garnish with a drizzle of aged Balsamic vinegar and/or chopped herbs if you like.
This is a one pot meal requiring very little clean up.  I made it strictly with ingredients that I had in my home.  You can make a soffritto from just about any combination of vegetables, so experiment with what you have around.  If you follow the method, you're likely to come up with something delicious.  As you can see from my photo above, I topped it off with some roasted chicken, but you could easily omit that, making it a vegetarian offering.

You might have noticed that my risotto recipe doesn't call for the usual incessant stirring.  A friend from the kitchen at work told me that it wasn't necessary to coddle the rice quite as much as I am apt, so I forged ahead without the usual fuss.  The results were just as creamy as ever, so I am delighted to report that standing over a stove and stirring a pot of rice for twenty minutes is now a thing of the past for me.

With Wine: We drank an Albariño from Galicia in Spain with our risotto last night.  The lush tropical and stone fruit flavors of the wine complimented the exotic ginger notes very nicely and the tangy quality of the wine cut the richness provided by the cream, butter, and cheese very well.  If you're in the mood for red, try a Dolcetto d'Alba or a Valpolicella Classico (avoid a richer ripasso version).  Both of these lighter bodied wines will play nicely off the sweet root vegetable character of the carrots and will also have a similar tangy quality to the Albariño.