Beans & Rice

This was a kitchen happening–not really a recipe with given quantities of anything–just because I wanted rice and beans. Everything is flexible, depending on your taste and how many servings you need. (I wanted to have some extra to put in the freezer for quick side to grilled meat.)

It’s SO hot here that cooking just isn’t very appealing even with air conditioning on. One of my solutions is to eat things can be prepared without turning on the stove. I did this in the Krups multi-function pot that I love and use in so many different ways. (Tomorrow I’ll be using it to make tuna confit since my supermarket had lovely tuna medallions on a really special sale. That will keep me in tuna for my summer salads for a bit.)

Black Beans & Rice with Chorizo

Ingredients

  • rice (about 1 cup)
  • olive oil (healthy dollop)
  • onions, chopped (lots)
  • black beans
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • canned diced tomatoes with green chilis
  • red pepper flakes (dash)
  • pimenton (dash)
  • Mexican oregano (good healthy pinch)
  • pork chorizo (about 1/2- to 3/4-pound fresh)
  • water or extra tomato juice/V8 juice as needed for the rice

Preparation

  • Sauté onions in olive oil until translucent and starting to soften
  • Add red pepper flakes, pimenton, oregano, salt and pepper and sauté until the spices are aromatic
  • Add chorizo and sauté until it starts to turn opaque
  • Add canned tomatoes
  • Add rice and black beans (canned or frozen)
  • cook until rice is tender

Ô¿Ô

It’s hot and humid here, and I was being particularly lazy, despite my desire for food so I did this in the multifunction pot. I did make this as easy as possible–frozen chopped onions, canned tomatoes, and frozen black beans (these from 13 Foods) but Stahlbush Island Farms also has black beans and brown rice that make a good starting place for this. The result with frozen legumes is much better than with canned, though those will work as well.

A note on the oregano–it was Mexican oregano which is definitely not the same as Greek or Turkish oregano. If you don’t have Mexican oregano, then I would substitute thyme or cilantro. I can’t get my head around the Greek or Italian with this mix of flavors.  The pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika) adds a bit of smoky flavor.

I first measured my rice so that I’d know how much liquid needed to be added to have it cook to proper doneness. Everything else was added (as indicated) by the dash, dollop, or pinch.

The chorizo that I used was fresh, made in-store from my Harris-Teeter supermarket, and not in casings so all I had to do was break it up into the pot to sauté.  Couldn’t get any easier. If you can’t find “loose” then just remove from the casing, or put the whole sausages in to make this a meat-centric dish.

Everything was sautéed using the rice cooker setting with the lid open. Quite quick and easy although it does require a little attention. Once the tomatoes (with juice) and beans were added, with just a bit of spicy V8 juice to give enough liquid to cook the rice, the lid was closed, and I went away to do something else–until my meal was done. The caveat here is that you do need to be sure that the amount of liquid is appropriate for cooking the rice–too much and you’ll have “blown out”, mushy rice; too little and it will still be crunchy–you’ll need to add more liquid and continue to cook until tender.

Quantities and totally flexible–maybe you like more rice than beans–or the other way round. I love lots of onions, but if you don’t, then just don’t use many.  The proportion of chorizo depends on how meat hungry you are–it can vary too, from almost a seasoning to a lot. Next time I make this I will add just a bit more than I used this time, although it was quite good this way.

A son gôut!

Ò¿Ó

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Kitchen disaster. . .

. . . but a happy, tasty ending.

Cat looking into refrigeratorI’m feeling a cold draft–very cold draft–around my ankles!

I know I’m not dreaming though it’s the middle of the night or somewhere in the wee hours of the morning–I’ve come to the kitchen (without turning on the light) to get a drink of water. . . .

Cold draft? Really, really cold draft–on my ankles.

Reality gradually seeps into consciousness:  I’m standing in front of the refrigerator–which has a bottom freezer, which I have stuffed pretty full.. . .

Light on. Obviously I’ve stuffed the freezer a little too full or something has fallen out of place. The freezer door is very slightly ajar. Even in my rather sleep-befuddled state, brain clicked on. Several epithets which should not be printed. Open freezer door and palpate the front packages: kale, butternut frozen onions, kalesquash, chopped onions. Soft, but not obviously completely thawed, but destined to turn into a huge clump of re-frozen vegetables.The only meat even close was a game hen which was still hard as a rock.

I closed the freezer door and checked that it shut completely, and tightly. Back to bed, knowing that I would have to do something with those veggies in the morning. (The ice cream was far enough back and in a corner that it was still hard or I guess I’d have been compelled to eat it right then and there–hmmmmm, should I go do a careful check on the ice cream?)

Morning after: I’ve got work that that to be done NOW so spending a bunch of time in the kitchen or skulking through cookbooks isn’t on my agenda. It’s time for some improvisation: take chopped onions, chopped kale and cubed butternut squash. . . .add some bratwursts that are in the fridge. Add a portion of mixed grains (brown basmati rice, red rice, barley, rye berries) and one multipurpose rice cooker.

I’m sure you’re not surprised that I’d resort to the rice cooker, given all the other things I have it to cook. Once you understand the physics of its function, it’s really easy to make it do what you want. So here we go again with the rice cooker.

Ò¿Ó

Kale, butternut squash with bratwurst

Cook’s note: first this is not a recipe–it’s an improvisational happening. Secondly, it’s recommended that you deliberately thaw the vegetables in the refrigerator or on the counter instead of the method described here if you wish to have them unfrozen. You can put frozen vegetables in the rice cooker without thawing unless you have a great big blob of frozen stuff. You can adjust the proportions of kale, onions, and squash as desired.

Ingredients

  • one standard-sized package chopped kale, thawed
  • one standard-sized package chopped onions, thawed
  • one standard-sized package butternut squash, cubed
  • 4 fresh bratwursts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2-1/2 cups water (or amount called for in the cooking instructions of your grain)
  • dash of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of oregano or herb of choice

Preparation

  • add olive oil to rice cooker bowl
  • add thawed onions and let sauté briefly
  • push the onions to the sides of the rice cooker
  • lay fresh sausages in a single layer and then redistribute the onions evenly over the bottom and partly over the sausages; they will brown lightly on the side in contact with the bottom of the rice cooker bowl
  • add 1 cup of grains
  • add kale and distribute evenly over grain and sausages
  • add red pepper flakes and herbs
  • add scant 2 cups of water; your rice cooker may need more or less, adjust as needed
  • close rice cooker and leave until it switches to “warm” function
  • stir contents (grains should be a bit underdone)
  • add remaining water
  • add butternut squash on top of greens, grain, and sausages
  • close rice cooker and leave until it switches to “warm” function a second time
  • check doneness of grain; if needed add a bit more water and wait again
  • when grains are cooked as you like them, serve!

Ò¿Ó

Despite the ridiculous circumstances that gave rise to this recipe, it was very tasty, and I’m sure some version of it will be made again. The combination of kale with the butternut squash was delightful. The combination of grains gives some interesting texture and flavor to the dish.

A son goût!

cat on kitchen counter

Too much convenience?

Mueller's Pot-Sized PastaI was striding purposefully down the aisle of my local Harris Teeter when a package caught my eye–and brought me to a screeching halt–pot-sized spaghetti? This is something that you buy?  You don’t just take the regular spaghetti and break it, assuming that you’re not going to just put it into the water slowly, letting it soften until it’s all in the water?

Pot-sized angel hair?

Pot-sized thin spaghetti?

Pot-sized linguine?  Really? I was amazed, or maybe stupefied, or maybe the only thing that really covers my reaction was what I understand the British expression–gobsmacked–to mean!  Are we so far from “home cooking” that we can’t even deal with pasta unless it’s pot-sized. As you can tell this catapulted me right onto my soapbox, or maybe even onto my high horse (which every you prefer). Has having pot-sized pasta brought down the price of my plain spaghetti that’s too long to fit in the pot unless I stand there and lower it slowly into the water? Not being a marketer, or an economist, merely a consumer, I really doubt that  it has. (Besides, I think this would be too short to twirl effectively to wrap it around my fork.) Not something I’m likely to buy (even though I do sometimes buy other Mueller’s pastas.

jar of mixed rice and grainsI went past the pasta display because I was on my way to something of a convenience nature for me: one of the packages of grain mixes. Those don’t leave me gaping.  They are very useful for single-serving cooking.  My latest is an HT Traders mix of basmati brown rice, red rice, with barley and rye berries. That’s my idea of convenience–I don’t have to buy the standard package of each of those grains: that would be about 1-3/4 pounds of basmati rice, and who knows how much red rice and rye berries. I most likely would not use that mix if I had to buy each of those separately–unless I could buy each from bulk supplies.

That kind of convenience I can get my mind around. I do have packages of barley, oats, but even the dried things don’t have unlimited shelf-life. They don’t  spoil–in other words they are not perishable. If you store them carefully in glass jars with good seals, they should not get buggy, but keep them long enough and they won’t hydrate as well, taking longer to cook. For some dried goods like beans, you may get to the point where they will never soften appropriately.

Of course, there’s also the issue of storage space–for those of us without the luxury of a large pantry with miles of shelf space, but who do like variety this is a great alternative. It has another benefit: it’s compatible with the rice cooker.  I’m happy to more of the “esoteric” grains show up in my local supermarket–they are cheaper than if I were to go to a specialty shop, not to mention just closer to home.

mixed grains

Lamb leg steak–continued

lamb leg steak on plate with ratatouilleThat lamb leg steak that I cooked a couple days ago was a big steak–weighing in just a bit under a pound. That’s a lot of meat–couldn’t possibly eat all that at one time.  As vehement as I’ve been about not liking, or dealing well with leftovers,  that does not apply here.  I don’t really consider the part of this steak that I didn’t eat then as undesirable. I couldn’t have that luscious steak without some left for other uses–not when it needs to be at least an inch thick to cook well. You’re wondering what happens to the rest of this steak?

Often the remains of a beef steak or a pork chop goes into a sandwich–since roast beef, lamb, or pork is not on the single-serving menu. Other times it does some metamorphic changes.  The remainder of this steak went into the rice cooker with a convenience mix of grains,  some garbanzo beans to give me some additional meals that were not meat-centric.

Ingredients

  • about 1/2 pound of cooked lamb steak, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • one 15-ounce can garbanzo beans with liquid
  • one 10 ounce can of diced tomatoes with jalapeños with liquid
  • 1 cup of brown basmati rice, red rice, barley, and rye berry mixture (uncooked)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried Turkish oregano
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup water (to bring total liquid to amount required for grains)

Preparation

  • Add all ingredients to rice/multi-cooker, stir well.
  • Set on rice cooking mode.
  • When cycle finishes, check grain for doneness.  If needed add more water in 1/2 cup increments until grains are done.

Ò¿Ó

Since the lamb steak had been well-browned on the griddle, it provided good rich flavor for the grains and the garbanzo beans.  Some of this was an extra meal (with a side of ratatouille), and the rest was packed (with the Handi-Vac®) for the freezer for later (especially cooler weather) meals.

mixed grains with tomatoes and lamb

A new take on a Southern tradition…

Produce display of bunched collard greens

collard greens

I’m not a native to the “real” South, so I was intrigued to learn about the custom of having collard greens and black-eyed peas as a mandatory part of New Year’s day dinner.  I like greens–so not big thing about the collard greens.  I like pulses, legumes, and all those things too.  Again, no big deal.  Unfortunately, I may be a less finicky eater than some of my friends and acquaintances.

On several occasions I’ve been the delegated to prepare those dishes for New Year’s day meals.  So–dinner for eight or so, I prepare collard greens and black-eyed peas in a traditional Southern style–well, talk about leftovers–everyone had the mandatory dishes–about a teaspoon of each!   Next year, I lucked out again–make collards and black-eyed peas. I made a much smaller quantity of each, but still had mega-leftovers.  Enough of that!

Next time I was delegated to bring collard greens and black-eyed peas to a New Year’s Day gathering, I decided that something had to be done to make those palatable to the kind of guests at the meal–true we’re all foodies, but some of us more than others.  I decided that the problem was not collards and black-eyed peas per se, but rather that they just did not fit with lovely roast duck with a nice fruit sauce.  I decided that I needed to present them differently.

Personally, I’d happily make a one-dish casserole of the collard greens, some sausages, and the black-eyed peas–a variation on one of my favorite recipes from Jacques Pepin’s The Short-cut Cook That still did not fit with New Year’s Day festivities.

My next though was that all these people (in fact, most people  I know) really like risotto.  After perusing a number of recipes, it seemed that as long as you could add most anything to basic risotto, as long as you did the appropriate pre-cooking.

I decided that it was time for collard greens and black-eyed peas to make a début as risotto ingredients.  Thankfully, the frozen vegetable case at my local supermarket came to the rescue: frozen collard greens (chopped), and frozen black-eye peas!  Happiness.

I started the basic risotto recipe with onions, white wine, olive oil, and sautéed  the rice.  I used home-made chicken stock for the liquid.  Frozen collard greens are already blanched, chopped, so all I did was to thaw them,  give them a bit more in the way of a rough chop, and since they are rather “tough” greens, steam-sautéed  them (without adding any more liquid) until close to being done.

The black-eyed peas seemed a bit more problematic since I knew that those can turn to mush easily as they’re fragile; I cooked those separately until almost done (according to the directions on the package).

When the risotto was close to being done, I added the collard greens and the black -eyed peas, and then finished the risotto with the Parmigano-Reggiano as usual.

Taking into account my earlier “luck” with collards and black-eyed peas, I made less than I though eight or so people would eat.  Wrong again–needed more–these foodies wanted seconds!

A son goût!  

Mind your peas and beans….

Main Entry: leg·ume    Pronunciation Guide
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural legumes \-ümz, -m\
Etymology: French légume, from Middle French, from Latin legumen, from legere to gather — more at LEGEND
1 a : the fruit or seed of a leguminous plant (as peas or beans) used for food b : a vegetable used for food — used chiefly in menus
2 : a leguminous plant; especially : one grown as a forage or green-manure crop (as clover, alfalfa)
3 : a dry dehiscent one-celled fruit developed from a simple superior ovary and usually dehiscing into two valves with the seeds attached to the ventral suture : POD — compare FRUIT 1d, LOMENT; see FRUIT illustration

“legume.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (17 Jul. 2011).

-♦♦♦-

I brought up the subject of purple-hulled peas since they are seasonal.  Unless you are a native Southerner you likely don’t know about this vegetable.  I’m not–and it took me a lot of research to find out what I wanted to know about peas and beans, which is which, and what is what.

At the risk of being a bit didactic, let’s start with legumes, which are ancient foods–good sources of protein, carbohydrates and fiber.  We should all eat more of them!  A list of legumes would include  beans, peas, soybeans, peanuts and lentils.

For now, lets just talk about peas (Pisum sativum).  When I say peas, you probably think of “garden” peas–those lovely bright green vegetables that are harbingers of spring.  There are English peas (shelled as the pod is inedible) and the edible-pod peas (snow peas, sugar snap peas or mange-tout).  There are also “field peas”–which are really the form of  pea  that is grown to be dried (on the vine) and would include yellow and green split peas.

Beans include broad beans (Vicia faba) and the common or horticultural bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)–also in pods–again legumes.  When I say “bean”, you likely think of those green things meant when we say “green beans”, “snap beans” or “string” beans.   Then you might think of dried beans.  But did you think of “shell” beans?  Bet you didn’t–unless you’re a Southerner or unless you grew up on a farm where you grew your own food.

Those are all life stages of beans–first comes the pod which we eat as the “green bean”, This is an immature form–picked very young these can be haricots verts; a bit more mature and they are string or snap beans.  The shell bean is the mature, but not dried, bean.  If you leave the pod on the plant to dry in the field, then you have dried beans–black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, et cetera.  For more detailed information on many varieties of Phaseolus vulgaris see The Versatile Grain and the Elegant Bean (bibliography).

Then there are lima beans: Phaseolus limensis (large lima beans frequently Fordhook, Phaseolus lunatus which are small lima beans (also called sieva beans, baby lima beans among other names) which are believed to have first been domesticated in the new world.

So, what are crowder peas, purple-hull peas, black-eyed peas, pigeon peas? Those are subspecies of cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) sometimes called cowpea beans.   They do look more like beans than like peas, but pods are not edible as are the common (or horticultural) beans.   So these are really neither the common bean nor the peas we know as garden peas.  They are their “own thing”.

So who cares?  I just wanted to know–think of how you can make conversation at the next cocktail party!  The really important thing is that the legumes (lentils will come later) are an important source of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber for animals and we should use more of the as people food.

So, back to the questions that really started this:  how do you cook purple-hull peas?  You’re not going to find out by looking up purple-hull peas in the index of a cookbook.  Look for recipes for black-eyed peas or for fresh shell/shelled beans and you should be able to substitute you shelled purple-hull or black-eyed peas in those recipes.   I’d strongly recommend looking at a vegetable cookbook like The Victory Garden Cookbook.  (The information here has been gleaned from multiple sources, but is mainly from this cookbook).

Some guidelines for buying:  you can likely expect about 50% loss when you shell them–so if you have bought a pound of these in the shell, you will end up with about 1/2 pound shelled.

If you’re not going to cook them immediately after shelling, refrigerate in a zipper-lock bag with a very slightly damp paper towel to keep moisture even–it will soak up condensation or add a bit of moisture if needed.  I wouldn’t keep more than a week…the sooner you cook any vegetable after harvest the better.

  • You can blanch/boil/braisethem:  cover with water, add seaonings if desired, and simmer until tender or partially cook with minimal seasonings andthen finish with additional seasonings or ingredients with another cooking method.  For small beans/peas like these it may take no longer than 5 to 10 minutes to be tender, but they do keep their shape well even with longer cooking times. The braising is really just cooking in water at a gentle simmer, using a minimal amount of water so you’ll need to keep an eye on them to see that they don’t dry out/burn/scorch.
  • you can steam them:  cooking time will be about the same as for blanching–about 5-10 minutes. (Theoretically, you can cook them in the microwave, but I’ve not ever been satisfied with how they turn out if cooked in the microwave, so I’m leaving that out.)

purple-hull peas in steamer

Once they are cooked, you can add some “finishing touches”.  If you cook them without much seasoning, you may be able to use them in a number of different ways.

  • after boiling or blanching, add some butter, salt and pepper to taste, and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice.
  • you can add cream and reduce it to a thicker sauce.
  • bake with a Béchamel/velouté sauce, topped with cheese, until bubbly.
  • add olive oil and herbs…e.g. savory which is sometimes known as the “bean” herb, dill, or sage, or other favorite.  Let stand for a bit to allow herbs and oil to meld with the beans.
  • you can add them to cooked snap/string/green beans, or other green veggies.
  • use cold or at room temperature with tomatoes to make a “bean salad”….
  • you can add them to rice.  Remember that the combination of legumes and grains does provide good quality, complete proteins.
  • then there’s “hoppin’ john”–Here’s a link to Emeril Legasse’s recipe.  If you’re a Southerner, you probably have a variation of this.  I’m not–but this one looks pretty good to me.

They are versatile–and underappreciated veggies.  My personal favorite for hot summer weather is to use them at room temperature for a “salad”.  Here’s a rough guide to making this dish.

  • steam beans/peas until tender–about 5-15 minutes.
  • While the beans/peas are steaming, dice some sweet onion, halve or quarter
  • some cherry tomatoes, or dice large tomatoes, and place in a bowl.
  • take enough extra-virgin olive oil to lightly coat the veggies and the beans (about 1 tablespoon per pound of beans) to a small skillet over very low heat and add crushed or very finely minced garlic and herbs of choice (savory, oregano, mint, ….) and allow to infuse for about 10 to 15 minutes; you don’t want the garlic to brown–so keep the heat very low–you just want the oil infused well with the flavors of the seasoning.  Or  heat the oil with the herbs and crushed garlic in a microwave safe container on low for about 4 to 5 minutes and let stand until cooled to infuse.
  • combine ingredients and add salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste.
  • add a squeeze of lemon or a dash of vinegar (rice wine or sherry) to brighten it up and contrast with the earthiness of the beans/peas.
  • toss with the extra-virgin olive oil, herbs and garlic.  (I’ve used about 1 to 1-1/2
  • tablespoon of very finely minced winter savory here.)
Some other additions or variations that are possible would include:
  • if you have “leftover” rice in the fridge or freezer, you could add that to the mix to make this a light meal that has complete proteins.
  • sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese; be careful how much salt you add if you’re going to use feta cheese with this.
  • add chunks of good quality tuna (canned) or from “leftover” tuna steak (this would be worth planning to have some extra grilled tuna steak around).
Now you say you have some lingering in the fridge and you’re tired of eating it? Well, try putting it into some rice as you’re cooking it–the purple-hulled peas usually hold shape well, and the tomatoes and onions will cook with the rice.  Now use it as a side dish with grilled/griddled meat; you might want to add additional herbs to this.

Risotto–even for one

Risotto is a favorite food–sometimes it’s comfort food and sometimes it’s a treat for a special occasion.  I am addicted to that luscious, sensual, creamy texture.  Depending on the additions it’s an all-season dish–veggies or shellfish in warm weather, or sausage and meat for cold-weather, stick-to-the-ribs comfort food.

There was a time when risotto was a special-occasion, dinner-with-friends dish for me. I’d invite friends for a meal and make risotto.   One day while making spinach risotto to go with pan-seared tuna, supervised by the cat, stirring and adding liquid, stirring…and thinking…I decided that there must be a way to have risotto in single-serving quantities.  Thinking of restaurants, I was sure that there was some “trick” that would allow finishing off one serving at a time;  I needed to figure out what that was.

I’ve tried the recipe given by Barbara Kafka in Microwave Gourmet (p.  114)  and that’s good for quick risotto but, to me, not quite as luxurious as the long slow kind.  The advantage there is that she does give quantities for serving one or two.  I kept going back to restaurant line cooking, and wondering how I would do risotto in that situation–I certainly would not be making it totally “to order”–I’d be finishing it off as ordered.  As much as I like risotto, it seemed worthwhile to try to find a way to have it more often.

I was using one of the recipes from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (pp. 242-245) as usual–still stirring, thinking, and stirring….   Maybe I could take some of the risotto out while slightly undercooked, before adding the cheese and butter and any final ingredients and freeze it for later use. (Can you see the light bulb appear above my head with this though?)

Judging that there was  more than enough for two of us in the batch that I was working on, I grabbed a small container and took out a single serving (fairly large single-serving), sealed it carefully so that there was no air space, and put it in the freezer.

A couple of weeks later, I pulled it out of the freezer and let it thaw in the refrigerator.  Now to see if I had something edible.  I’d taken it out of the original batch when I though I had about ten minutes of cooking time left.  Now, back into a pan, add some broth, and more stirring.  It took a bit of effort to get it mixed with the liquid as it was stiff, but after that it seemed to be a good consistency.   As soon as the rice had that bit of “bite” –tender outside, but still firm at the center, I added the parmigiano-reggiano, and a bit of butter and it was ready to eat.

I have not done a side-by-side tasting with this method and the microwave risotto or with risotto freshly made with the classic technique, but I felt that this was a bit creamier than the microwave method, and it took about the same amount of time.

Rice for risotto needs to do two things:  to have soluble starch to dissolve in the liquid to give the creamy texture of risotto, and to have enough insoluble starch to have that “tooth” or “bite” at the center of the grain that makes risotto such a sensual (and sensuous) delight.  I’ve most often used Arborio rice for risotto, and that’s what I used for this, and for the microwave trial, and from the same batch of rice.   Two other varieties of rice used for risotto are Vialone Nano, and Carnaroli.   These three varieties offer a bit of difference in the consistency of the risotto due to differences in the kinds of starch that predominate.   The Vialone Nano has enough e “bite” while having enough soluble starch to have the creamy texture of risotto, albeit looser, and maybe a bit less creamy.  The Carnaroli  has an even firmer “bite” with the creaminess, with the Arborio being sort of in between, and the most readily available (and the least expensive) of the three.  I have not tried this technique with either the Vialone Nano or with the Carnaroli–maybe that’s a future experiment, but with the Arborio I was pleased with the result.

There are so many variations that make risotto a meal in itself:  you can add meat, vegetables, fish, or shellfish easily as you finish the thawed risotto and vary the seasoning easily.   Quick-cooking vegetables could be added as you start the finishing step; harder vegetables can be sautéed  or partially cooked before you add the risotto to finish it.

One surprisingly good addition to risotto (from Marcella Hazan’s recipes) is celery!  I’m always looking for things to do with the celery that’s left after I use the one or two ribs called for in recipes; when I saw her recipe for “Risotto with Celery” I just had to try that variation on risotto. Her recipe (p. 249 in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) calls for 2 cups finely diced celery for six serving of risotto.  It’s added in two different stages (if you’re making risotto in the classic way):  half at the beginning  when the rice is added, and the remainder  when the rice is about half-cooked  so there is some texture variation.  This is a great side for grilled meat or fish.  I really liked it to accompany a grilled lamb shoulder chop.   (I’m starting to feel that celery may be an under-appreciated vegetable and not just an aromatic seasoning.)

For finishing liquid, if the original batch of risotto was made using broth, you could finish it with water, though I find I usually have some broth in the refrigerator.   I’ll concede that you may not have the melding of flavors that you would have were the veggies or meats cooked with the risotto for the entire cooking time, but the result is good enough when you consider the shorter time, and the fact that you can have this in single-serving quantities.

Another lovely “comfort” food with Arborio rice that is a favorite of mine is “Boiled Rice with Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Basil” (again from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (pp. 258-259).  Here is a summary of the recipe:

Boiled Rice with Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Basil

Servings: 4, but halving the recipe works well.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons or butter
  • 6 ounces of mozzarella (fresh)
  • 1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • 4-6 fresh basil leaves (shredded)
  • salt

Preparation:

  1. Cut room-temperature butter into small pieces and cut the mozzarella in  small pieces (grate on the largest holes of a box grater if it’s not too soft–mine usually is too soft). You want small pieces so that the heat of the rice will melt it.
  2. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt, and bring back to a boil.
  3. Add rice, stir immediately for a few seconds so that it doesn’t stick together. Cover the pan. Keep at a constant, but moderate boil, until the rice is tender but still has the central “bite”.  Stir occasionally while cooking, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. When tender but al dente, drain the rice and add the mozzarella, then the Parmesan cheese, then the butter; stir well after each is added.  Finally, add the shredded basil leaves and stir in and serve immediately.

It’s not risotto, but then you don’t have the constant stirring that goes with classic risotto,  while you do get a great texture given the soluble starch of the Arborio and the cheese melted into the hot rice.

I’ve yet to try the Cook’s Illustrated baked risotto, but that looks like another possible alternative and perhaps adaptable to smaller quantities.  As well as I like rice and risotto, I have a lot of exploring to do to find out what works best for single-serving cooking.

A son goût!