Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Do The Rice Thing

When I experiment with a new ingredient, but don't really know exactly what to do with it or how to prepare it, I usually reach for the rice jar and make risotto. It's a great way to deal with flavors that are unfamiliar or strong, since cooking slowly over a low flame can help diffuse any overwhelming flavors. I recently decided that I should be using more radicchio, which is just starting to come into season and will be around throughout the entire winter season. It has gorgeous color, crunchy texture and a flavor that changes almost completely when cooked. It's most commonly eaten in salads as a bitter lettuce here in the United States, but is commonly referred to as Italian chicory because of its popularity in Italian cuisine. It's also often grilled, which also mellows its flavor, and served as a side dish or as part of a grilled salad.

It turns out that I was right on track with the risotto and radicchio, as it's a common pairing in Italian cooking. I'd really only grilled it before to make a warm lettuce salad, so I wasn't really sure what to expect from it when it wilted down. I was fortunate enough to recently catch an episode of Lidia's Italy (I love her show) that centered around the area of Treviso, where Italian chicory grows. She made the risotto pictured above with a few heads of real Treviso chicory. As I've mentioned many, many, many times before, risotto is super easy and requires nothing more than 20 minutes or so of light stirring. I'm an impatient cook that's always messing around with whatever's in the pot, so it's the perfect dish for me to make on the fly and release all my nervous energy.

It was actually quite good, possibly one of my new favorite risottos ever. The radicchios bitterness actually disappeared completely, and it took on a languid shape and sweet, almost delicate flavor. Its vibrant amethyst color went dark and tinted the rest of the dish with a slight lavender hue. Lidias recipe calls for leeks in addition to scallions, but I actually found that using shallots and scallions was quite delicious. The shallots take on their own level of sweetness and lose their pungency, while the scallions bring in a more formidable onion flavor in a mild and unobtrusive way. I was surprised to see exactly how much the radicchio
cooked down, reminding me a lot of spinach, in that a whole head that worked out to well over 4 cups of shredded radicchio really only yielded enough for 2 portions of risotto. I've adapted Lidia's recipe a bit, but I think the changes worked out well.

Risotto al Radicchio

4 1/2 cups hot chicken (or non-tomato based vegetable) stock or broth

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium shallot, minced

3 to 5 scallions finely sliced
1 cup Arborio Rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 medium head of radicchio, shredded
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat oil and half of the butter over medium-low heat. Add shallot and saute until just starting to brown. Add scallions and rice and cook until rice becomes opaque. Add a pinch of salt and taste rice for seasoning. Add the wine and simmer until evaporated.

2. Add 3/4 of the radicchio and saute 1 minute, then add a ladleful of stock. Simmer, stirring occasionally until stock is almost all absorbed, and repeat until rice is cooked through (I like mine al dente).

3. When the rice is cooked through, add one last ladleful of stock, Parmesan cheese and the remaining butter and radicchio. Stir until radicchio is just wilted, plate and serve topped with scallions. Enjoy!


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