Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When All Else Fails, Just Add Wine

I've mentioned many a time that cooking is my way of easing stress. It helps me to relax and unwind, to clear my head and just empty out the noise that is constantly pounding around my brain. Risotto is the kind of food you want to make when you need things to be quiet and methodical. If you want to do it right, you are adding a small amount of liquid to rice, stirring it gently until the liquid is absorbed, then repeating. You taste as you go, playing with your seasoning until you have just the right balance. This is the kind of food that is all about the preparation, the spoon against the pan, the rasp of the pepper grinder. Risotto is one of my favorite things to cook. I get it right most of the time, but here and there I can get a little off my game.

I consider myself a fairly resourceful person. I've gotten myself out of many a bind over the years. You learn to be pretty imaginative when you find yourself in a different country than everyone you know bar two people. I'm still quite pleased with where my life has taken me over the years. I always feel that I can come up with something. So when I was stirring some mushroom risotto this weekend and not getting the taste that I wanted no matter how I adjusted my seasonings, I knew that somehow I would manage to fix it. I had sauteed some mushrooms in butter, pulled them out and then lightly toasted some arborio rice in the glistening liquid. I'd slowly added vegetable stock and some white wine, I'd lovingly minced up rosemary and thyme and some parsley. I'd salted. I'd peppered. I still just wasn't happy. It wasn't working. I knew the biggest problem was that I needed to use stronger tasting vegetable stock, but I didn't have any on hand.

As I stood there, stirring and tasting, getting more and more frustrated, I realized what I had to do. I took a healthy sip of the delightful Pinot Noir, the last of the bottle, the last of the wine in the house bar the one bottle that I keep for emergencies in case I'm invited over for dinner somewhere, and I dumped the entire glass into the risotto.

After a quick stir, I tentatively lifted a spoon containing a few grains to my mouth and tasted. The wine against the parmesan cheese and herbs bloomed beautifully across my tongue. The depth and richness of the wine played perfectly against the meaty earthiness of the mushrooms. My glass may be empty, but dinner was saved. Add in a glass of cold beer and some herb encrusted chicken and the whole thing turned out to be not too shabby after all.

Mushroom Risotto

Regarding the white wine, what I used is a wine that I opened the bottle of, instantly disliked, and portioned out and put in the freezer for cooking with. I often do this with wine that I come across that I don't enjoy. The red wine should be something you like, though. I haven't included measurements for the seasonings because I highly recommend that you do this according to your tastes. I like most of my food very salty and its not everyones cup of tea.

8oz Mushrooms, sliced
4 Tablespoons Butter
2 Cups Arborio Rice
5 Cups Vegetable or Chicken Stock
1 Cup White Wine
1 Cup Red Wine
1 Cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
Parsley, Thyme, Rosemary, Salt and Pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add in the mushrooms and brown. I know it seems like a lot of butter, and it is, but it does produce a yummy risotto. Lessen it if you feel you need to. When the mushrooms are brown, set them aside. Add the rice and cook for three or four minutes. You want much of the rice to turn translucent. Mix the white wine into the vegetable stock and add to the rice a ladelful at a time. Stir until all the liquid is absorbed before adding more. This will likely take you about thirty minutes. When you are halfway through, add the herbs, salt and pepper, and start tasting. As the liquid is absorbed, taste before you add more, checking for doneness and taste. When you have it as you like it, add in the mushrooms and the parmesan cheese and, once that has melted in, add in the glass of red wine. Stir until it is absorbed, and then turn off the heat.
This is really yummy with chicken and would probably be good with a nice steak too.

Makes 4 Servings

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