5.24.2006

Rediscovering Risotto

Last night was comfort food. Simple cooking, nothing spectacular, and with the ease of jarred green curry sauce for chicken and frozen Thai-style carrots (both Trader Joe's, and both addictive), it might have felt like too much cheating if it weren't for washing all the final pots. The risotto, however, I can maintan dignity with.
I've had this risotto cookbook for literally years; so long that I can't even remember when or how I got it. I do know that there was a time when I was a risotto devotee and then for some years fell out of touch with it in advertently. Some months ago, however, I rediscovered this book on the shelf and fell upon it with the vigor I normally read cookbooks, devouring the pages and the recipes. And with the rediscovery of the book, a rediscovering of risotto.
Risotto's a favorite dish of mine because it looks fancy and impresses those not-in-the-know by sounding exotically Italian and tasting at once rich and delicate, soothing and exciting. It rewards with its relative ease in really just needing some patience and a good strong stirring arm to coax creamy starch out of the rice grains. This one in particular - coconut risotto - smells like heaven while it's cooking, and I've found it quite forgiving in terms of the constant vigilance usually recommended - if I need to neglect stirring the rice for a minute or so while I'm beginning to stir-fry the chicken, for instance, I don't worry. This does work best if the heat under the pot is maintained properly, you only need a very brief time away, and the time is towards the end of cooking when you have maybe a quarter to third of the liquid remaining left to go. The end result is still lush and smooth, with the undercurrent of coconut running through, and tender with just a little give left in the grains. It makes an excellent accompaniment to pork with peanut sauce, but I've also eaten it with curries, beef, sausage, and cold straight from the refrigerator.

COCONUT RISOTTO
from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library: Risotto

4 1/4 cups chicken stock or broth
3 1/2 cups coconut milk (about 2 14-oz cans. I use light)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 shallots, finely chopped, or a mixture of chopped onion and minced garlic as you like
2 1/2 cups Arborio rice

Pour the stock and coconut milk into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Adjust the heat to keep the liquid hot.
In a large, heavy saucepan (at least 3 qt.) over medium heat, warm the vegetable oil. Add the shallots and saute until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add the rice and stir until white spots appear in the center of the grain, about 1 minute. Add a ladleful of hot liquid, adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the liquid, a ladleful at a time and stirring constantly, until the rice is tender but slightly firm in the center and the mixture is creamy, 20-25 minutes longer.
Season with salt and pepper and garnish with cilantro, if desired.

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