Thursday, June 6, 2013

Risotto, nearly fat-free

I've never made risotto before, but then, I've never been retired before. And honestly, this is not difficult, but it is time-consuming, and you can't do much in the way of multi-tasking. Not like sticking a meatloaf and some spuds in the oven and walking away to do the laundry (or watch TV). Plan on it taking at least an hour of standing in the kitchen!

I had extra motivation, because I wanted to see if I could make a tasty risotto dish WITHOUT Parmesan and with practically no fat, because I want to make it for someone who can't eat those things. I know, practically heresy to make it without the parm, but I had to try.

I'll start by saying, well, of course, add parm -- or cheese in general -- to anything and it probably will taste even better. But this was good, and I ate it with no regrets! And let's face it, all of us could use some low-fat, tasty dishes.

What's in it:
  • 4 cups non-fat chicken broth (I didn't have any homemade on hand, so I used a good, organic one from Trader Joe's, the kind in a carton. I only use the kind in a carton, never canned. This is especially important for risotto because the broth will get cooked down and the flavor will be concentrated, so if it doesn't taste good to start with .... eww. ) If you have to make it totally vegan, I guess you could substitute vegetable stock or even water, but I can't vouch for it.
  • 12 ounces of arborial rice, which was about 1-1/2 cups. You cannot use just any rice; has to be short-grained and, to be safe, should say risotto rice.
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine -- it can be the economy type as long as it tastes ok (not like feet! LOL). If you don't have wine, you could use another tasty liquid or just use more chicken broth.
  • 1 Tablespoon butter and 1 Tablespoon canola oil. I'm sure it would work with 2T canola or any other "good" (i.e., permitted on the healthy diet) oil. That's not very much fat for this amount of food.
  • salt, pepper, Penzey's Sunny Spain blend (pepper, lemon zest, onion and garlic), 1 tiny pinch extra garlic powder.
  •  about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of lemon zest, grated.
  • Assortment of fresh veggies. I used about 1 cup each of mushrooms, french green beans (haricot verts), Brussels sprouts and onion, and about half of a red bell pepper.
  • a couple of quick spritzes of vegetable oil, the kind in the spray can or the "Mr. Misto." See below for alternative. 
You also need a 2-quart saucepan; a deep, preferably heavy skillet (my trusty cast-iron chicken fryer comes into play once again), a stirring device that is preferably a wooden spoon, and a bowl or platter for later, preferably not white or beige. You don't have a black platter? Sorry.

Step one: Roast the veggies.

1. Set the oven at at least 400F. Prepare the veggies by washing and chopping. Cut the stem ends off the Brussels sprouts, cut them in half and remove the outer leaves if they are, well, ugly. Trim the thready end off the green beans. Slice the mushrooms. Chop up the onion and set aside half of it. Slice strips of the red bell pepper, trimming off the white part and seeds. Chop up any other veggies into similar size pieces so everything will roast at about the same time.
2. Spritz a jelly roll pan or similar baking pan (sides are good; cookie sheets with no sides invite the disaster of things rolling off) with whatever "good" oil you have. If you do not have a spritzer, sprinkle a little oil on and smear it around with a paper towel, removing any excess. Put the veggies in one layer in the pan (Brussels sprouts go cut side down.) and lightly spritz again. (Or you could put the veggies in a big bowl with maybe 1 teaspoon of "good" oil and toss them around to coat.) The point of the oil is to help convey the heat to the veggies, and also seal in some moisture so they don't mummify completely. Sprinkle with salt. No pepper; it will burn.
3. Roast 'em. Mine took 15 minutes, but I started checking at 10.

The actual risotto

1.  Heat the 4 cups (1 quart) of chicken broth in the saucepan and keep it hot by turning the heat down very low.
2. Meanwhile, put the 2 T. of oil or whatever in the heavy deep skillet and add the half of a chopped onion that didn't go into the oven. Add some salt. Gently saute until translucent and starting to turn golden. Five minutes, maybe, depending on the heat, your pan, etc.
3. Add the arboreal rice and stir until coated with oil and the very outside edges start to go translucent. I was being super-cautious not to burn it, so this took about 10 minutes more, but probably would happen in 5 minutes if I hadn't been paranoid. But you don't want the heat to be more than about medium. This does give you time to check the veggies. If they're done -- should be some carmelization but not burning -- turn off the oven and even take them out if you think they're close to burning. Otherwise they can stay in and keep cozy and warm once you've turned off the heat.
4. When the rice is all shiny and kind of grayish along the edges instead of white, add the 1/2 cup of white wine. Stir until the wine has evaporated and/or soaked in.
5. Start adding the hot broth about 1 cup at a time, and stir and simmer until each dose is absorbed. You don't have to stir constantly, but close to it. You definitely don't want to walk away. If your stock is unsalted, you may need to add salt here; if it is not sodium-free, I'd wait and taste it. Do add whatever seasonings you are using except for the lemon zest, which I like to add at the very end. Also a good time to taste for salt, but you might not need more.
6. When the last bit of broth is absorbed, the risotto should be creamy but not dry. If you were adding parm, it would go in now. Otherwise, grate on the lemon zest, turn it out on a platter and pile on the veggies, for a nice presentation. Or stir the veggies in first and then plate. Up to you.
If I were serving this with meat of any sort, I would pile it on the platter around the risotto. 

Taste: It tastes creamy, which is a rare texture in extremely low-fat foods. It tastes a little nutty, yes, and the lemon zest adds a nice sparkle. And roasted veggies taste so much better than boiled or steamed.
How many servings? I had about a cup, and that barely made a dent in the platter. So 12 servings, easily, as a side dish, maybe 6 as the main item, especially if you heaped on the veggies. So counting the oil used on the veggies, let's say that's 7 teaspoons of fat divided by 6 ... oh, you do the math.  It's like, what, half a pat of butter. You get that much fat just walking past a Cinnabon.

  • You could broil shrimp or scallops after taking the veggies out of the oven. Either one takes maybe 5-6 minutes.
  • You could broil or roast other veggies such as eggplant.
  • You could roast sweet potatoes, but those take longer, as do carrots and other "dense" veggies, so start them first.
  • Experiment with different seasonings, of course.
  • I've read that you can stir frozen peas in when the risotto is nearly done, and they'll cook just fine. Didn't try it, yet. 
  • If I knew I was serving this with shrimp, for example, I would for sure take the shrimp shells and brew up a shrimp stock to use instead of the chicken broth.

  • I'm pretty sure this is a dish that Alton Brown grates some fresh nutmeg onto, so that would be worth a try, depending on what other flavors you had going on.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ham Salad

Oh, I'm so sorry. There's no recipe. It's all by feel and taste.
Some ham, ground up on the larger dice of the grinder
Some hard-boiled eggs
Some pickles or relish (I like the ones marketed as "Sweet Salad Cubes"
Some Miracle Whip (yeah, yeah, make your own mayo. Go ahead)
Some spices.

Okay, I'd say for every half-pound or so of ham -- and this should be leftover ham, you know, scraps -- I'd use one or  two hard-boiled eggs, 2 to 3 Tablespoons of sweet pickle Salad Cubes or relish or ground-up pickles, and 3 Tablespoons of Miracle Whip. Start with less, and taste it and adjust. For seasonings, I like a good dose -- say 1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Ancho chili pepper.  Taste and add more if you like. You could do mustard or other pepper or Cayenne, to your taste. Don't add salt until you taste it, because the ham is bringing the salt to this party and you aren't very likely to need more.

This is so much better on toast than on plain bread. But so many things are.


About Me

My photo
This is me enjoying a limoncello in Rome on the last night of our trip to Italy. Funny thing is, I don't really like limoncello that much, but thought it would be great in a dessert. And wouldn't you know, The Barefoot Contessa just did a great fruit salad with limoncello. So now I can't. Oh, well.