It seems odd posting about winter dishes when it’s almost 90 degrees outside and looks like this:
Ah, Southern California!
Whatever the temperature, it is still winter and for most of the country, a soul-warming bowl of goodness is a perfect dinner. Actually, this kind of dinner sounds wonderful to me even when it’s 90 degrees out.
Risotto used to make me nervous. I read over and over that it was very difficult, that you have to stir it constantly, never leaving the stove; if you look away for a nanosecond, it’s ruined. Oh and chances are whatever you do, you will ruin it.
Total BS. Risotto is pretty easy to make. You do not have to stir it continually or even watch it constantly. True, this isn’t stew which you can leave for hours and never look in the pot but you can be in the kitchen doing other things and not be scared your risotto will get messed up. I assure you: once you make a risotto, you will make it over and over again. You probably already have on hand what you need to make a basic risotto, the variations from the basic recipe are almost infinite and risotto tastes so damn good! It’s also great to learn because this dish is a perfect meal any time of year. Spring and Summer risottos, for instance, with fresh vegetables from the garden or the Farmer’s Market are divine.
Let me then give you a wonderful recipe. But first, a few notes on my winter risotto:
- Classic risotto is made with Arborio Rice, which has a high starch content making it creamier than regular rice when cooked. Hence it’s use in risotto. But you don’t always have to use arborio rice. All kinds of grains work. Particularly in winter, I love to use barley, farro, sweet brown rice, wheat berries… whatever I have on hand, all make nutty, hearty risottos that go well with chilly temperatures and cold weather ingredients such as butternut squash.
- These grains take longer to cook than arborio, so if you have made risotto before, be prepared for a longer cook time and more broth than usual. It’s worth it.
- This particular recipe calls for slow roasted tomatoes, which are a breeze to make but take a little time in the oven. Roast some one night or weekend afternoon and stick them in the fridge. They last a week and you can use them on just about anything, they are wonderful.
Here, then, is a winter risotto. Give it a try and then begin to experiment with all kinds of twists and ingredients. You won’t be sorry!
6-8 slow roasted tomatoes (see recipe below)
6-8 cups chicken or vegetable broth (preferably homemade)
Olive oil and butter
1 medium yellow or sweet onion diced (or a few shallots diced)
3 cloves garlic minced
3 -4 oz pancetta, diced (optional)
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup pecorino cheese
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium pot, combine the broth and the tomatoes. Using an immersion blender (or do this in a regular blender), puree the broth and tomatoes. You will end up with a broth slightly thicker than normal. Warm this on the stove until it is almost at a boil.
In a larger pot, put a few plugs of olive oil and a pad of butter. Warm over medium high. Sauté the onions in the olive oil and butter. (Throw in the pancetta as well, if using.) Sauté until the onions are very soft. Throw in the garlic and thyme leaves for the last two minutes. Add a few shakes each of salt and pepper as well.
Add your grains and stir to coat with the olive oil and butter. (Not swimming in the oil, just coated. You can add a little more olive oil if need be.) Cook, stirring here and there, for a couple of minutes.
Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until it is almost gone.
At this point, you want both pots next to one another for ease. Add enough broth to cover the grains by a half inch or so. What happens now is you stir here and there and let the grains absorb the broth. Never let the grains be uncovered. Add a ladle or two of broth whenever you need, to keep the grains a little covered, stirring off and on.
Cook, adding broth as needed, until the grains are almost to a soft texture. Start tasting a grain at the 20 minute mark. Some of these grains (farro in particular) may take upwards of 40 minutes, longer than normal risotto. Just keep cooking. You want to end with almost no broth and the grains soft and kind of creamy. Winter grains won’t be as creamy as arborio rice but the trade off is so worth it, you get a flavor and texture that is wonderful.
When the grains are pretty much done and the broth is pretty much absorbed, add another pad of butter and the pecorino cheese. A little more salt and pepper. Stir well and cover for two minutes, to let sit and fully come together. Voila!
(You could also add a few of the remaining tomatoes, diced, with the butter and pecorino…)
SLOW OVEN ROASTED TOMATOES
Preheat oven to 300.
Take 10-20 medium tomatoes and halve horizontally through the middle, not the blossom end. Place snugly in a roasting pan. Roma tomatoes are perfect for this. If you use Roma tomatoes, slice vertically through the blossom end.
Top each tomato with a sliver or three of garlic, some thyme leaves and a lot of salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil all over.
Slow roast in the oven for at least 2 -3 hours, the longer you slow roast, the better. I’ve gone as long as 6 hours with these. Store in the fridge, they will keep a week. You can use them on sandwiches, pizza, you can dice them and toss them in pasta or just eat them by themselves, my favorite way.
NOTE: This is a great way to prepare mediocre supermarket tomatoes in the winter when you can’t get tomatoes fresh.