Risotto for one

A traditional risotto, scaled for one.

Spaghetti & Meatballs

It’s no secret that I love risotto (Exhibit A, Exhibit B). It can be a time-intensive dish, so my tendency has always been to make risotto in bulk.

But after a few delicious risotto meals recently, I realized I didn’t have enough ingredients left to make any of my favorite risotto recipes without buying more supplies. The idea of risotto for one was born.

I scoured several risotto recipes for larger groups and tweaked them to fit my ingredient supply. This risotto is deliciously simple and just the right size for one. Enjoy!


  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • A few tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup Arborio rice
  • A few tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Warm the stock in a pot over medium heat.
  • In a separate pot, melt the butter. Cook…

View original post 175 more words

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!  

Risotto: making a single serving

An earlier post dealt with one way to have single servings of risotto, but in case you’ve eaten all of that and want a quick batch, here is a recipe adapted from Barbara Kafka’s Microwave Gourmet  (pp.114-115) to serve one as a first course or two as a side dish.

Basic Risotto

  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced yellow onion
  • 1/4 cup arborio rice
  • 1-1/4 cups chicken broth
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Make this is a large soup plate or pie plate.
  2. Heat butter and oil at 100% for 2 minutes.
  3. Add onions and rice, stirring to coat with the oil and butter and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in broth and cook uncovered at full power for 6 minutes; stir well and cook for an additional 6 minutes (12 minutes total).
  5. Remove from oven and let stand 3 minutes, stirring several times allowing rice to absorb remaining liquid.
  6. Stir in salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.
(I don’t think that this is quite as creamy and luscious as risotto made the traditional way, but it’s certainly very good when you need a quick main or first course–or just some comfort food.)

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.


  • 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


  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!

“Convenience” foods for cooking for one

Time frequently seems to be of the essence when cooking–for one or for many.  There are some things that I discovered that save me lots of time–and that means that I’m much more likely to cook a meal, rather than do carry-in, or reach for the peanut butter jar!

When you see “convenience” food, I dare say your first thought is processed, open-heat-and-eat food.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m thinking of things you prepare yourself with choice ingredients, and freeze, or otherwise “put by” for later uses that can shave time off of recipes.

How many recipes do you have that start with  a “flavor base” like  sofrito (Spanish), soffrito (Italian), mirepoix or mirepois (French)?    Lots, probably.  How many times have you passed on that recipe because you don’t have those, you did not want to spend the time mincing, dicing, or you pulled that bag of celery out of the crisper, and–yuck–it’s no longer fit to use!   Cooking for one, I find celery a particularly frustrating ingredient.  I like celery–but it always seems to go bad in the crisper.

Many flavor bases to start soups, stews, et cetera begin with carrots, celery, onion, diced or minced and sautéed  in olive oil (or maybe butter).  True it’s only a few minutes work to do this–if you have the ingredients.  My solution to this has been to take celery, carrots, onions, and use the food processor to chop a large batch of this useful mixture, sauté in a mild olive oil with just a touch of salt, and then pack it into small containers in lots of a couple tablespoons (or freeze in ice-cube trays and transfer to zipper-lock bag), and put it in the freezer so that when I need it, I have the basic prepared carrots, celery and onions, to which I can add garlic and herbs as needed for a particular recipe, and I’m off to a running start.

I do keep canned beans around as a “convenience” food, but I much prefer to cook my own dried legumes (pulses).  Since that is a time consuming thing, I have found a way to make those into “convenience” ingredients:  cook a large batch until almost fully cooked, and then freeze with some of the liquid in small quantities–a cup or so, whatever you would most likely use.  I’ve found that they hold well in the freezer, and can finish cooking quickly, so that you have the advantage of home-cooked quality, without the time investment.  I’ve done this with lentils (my favorites being the French LePuy) of all sorts.  True, lentils cook quickly and do not require soaking, but I can still save time with these.   I particularly like to do this “precook” with beans since that means that I can have lots of variety and have the convenience of canned, with specialty beans that are very tasty.

Grains can also be done this way too.  That left-over serving of rice that I’m sure I’m not going to use this week gets labeled, dated, and put into the freezer for a quick serving when I don’t want to take the time of cook rice from scratch.

Risotto is another favorite main dish for me–right in my category of comfort food with mac ‘n’ cheese, and tomato soup; I don’t find cooking it to be difficult–in fact it’s rather relaxing, but time consuming.  I’ve tried some of the “quick” recipes (see Risotto post) and have not been too dissatisfied with them, but I’ve also found that I can make a big batch of risotto to the point where it’s ready for the addition of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and then freeze it is serving-size batches.   It will thaw quickly, and lets me have risotto fairly frequently.   It’s easy to add vegetables or seafood or other quick-cooking things as you finish this preparation.

Another “convenience” ingredient is homemade broth or stock.  While I will admit to keeping canned/boxed broth/stock on hand, I much prefer to have the real homemade thing, and that is not hard to do:  make a large batch on a cold rainy day when it’s good to be indoors; freeze it in small quantities for future use.   I’ve found a very quick way to make chicken broth too.  More about that later.

All these little conveniences can add up to much better small-time cooking with big-time flavor even when cooking just for one.