Thursday, April 25, 2013

"A Table In Tuscany" - Spring Risotto (Risotto Primavera) (Bonus recipe: Stuffed chicken)

Date I made this recipe:  April 21, 2013

A Table in Tuscany – Classic Recipes from the Heart of Italy – Collected and Illustrated by Leslie Forbes
Published by:  Chronicle Books
ISNB:  0-87701-832-4
Recipe:  Spring Risotto (Risotto Primavera) – p. 91; Bonus Recipe: Stuffed Chicken (La Gallina Ripiena) p. 135

As previously reported, we have not been blessed this year with springtime weather, instead bracing ourselves for snow and more snow.  So I can see where you might be tempted to think that this recipe for Spring Risotto (Risotto Primavera) is sort of a “screw you” to Mother Nature but you’d be wrong.  This recipe selection is a result of going to the opera.

On Saturday, April 20th, a friend invited me to a performance of Turandot by the Minnesota Opera.  This opera, written by Tuscan Giacamo Puccini, is set in China and tells the story of a cold and cruel princess, Turandot, who kills all suitors who do not correctly answer the three riddles she poses to them.  And then along comes Calaf, the unknown prince, who does correctly answer the three riddles and gets to hang on to his head.  I know—feel the love, right?

So I came home and thought about what to make the next day (Sunday is typically cooking day in our house) and at first thought something Chinese to go along with the opera’s theme.  But then I thought about pasta to honor Puccini and that also made sense because Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy from China, and then I got real creative and looked to see where Puccini was born (Tuscany) and thought “aha!” – risotto, the Italian version of rice – perfect!! (By the way, one of my uncles was named Giacomo, which means James.  He later switched it to James but the family calls him Jack as that is how “Gia” is pronounced.  As far as I know though, he does not write operas.)

In the interest of disclosure, Andy and I have cooked from this cookbook, A Table in Tuscany before, making the Stuffed Chicken dish several times over including Thanksgiving and Christmas (I’ve included the recipe as a bonus below).  But since I was bent on making risotto, I tried a new recipe.  I can’t say I’ll repeat it though, as it was good but not great (unlike the stuffed chicken which is fantastic).  Plus, I felt that the recipe needed a few adjustments.

First, the recipe calls for beef stock and I just thought the beef flavor was too heavy for “spring” risotto and all those spring vegetables.  Were I to make it again, I’d use a chicken stock or even vegetable for a lighter flavor.

Next, the recipe called for greenish tomatoes and good luck finding those the day before a snowstorm, and so I used regular.  They were quickly pulverized by the stirring that needed to take place to make the risotto.  Had I to do it over again, I’d make the risotto and then add the vegetables so they don’t turn mushy.

Next, risotto is a tricky bugger to make (and one that my Sicilian family never put on the stove – ever).  You need to find the right balance between creamy and al dente and I think we cooked it too long.  This was all my fault – I just didn’t want to eat al dente risotto and so suggested to my husband that he cook it a bit longer.  It was still creamy but was “this close” to becoming paste.  Clearly, I am lacking the gene needed to totally nail this dish.

Finally, as I was eating it, I said to Andy that I thought it could use a little lemon zest to brighten up the dish and to perk up the vegetables.  This was as close as I got to a “foodie” moment.  I think I was right on this one though, and so suggest you try it to see how it goes.

As it turned out, I got a reprieve of sorts on Sunday when I made this dish as the weather was somewhat decent but on Monday night it snowed again and it looked like Winter Wonderland around here. My favorite radio station, The Current, played Christmastime is Here from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and also played Sleigh Ride in the background as the DJ’s were talking.  I love a radio station with a sense of humor.  Even more hilarious was the week before, the Twin Cities was testing out tornado sirens for tornado awareness week and damned if we weren’t having a snowstorm at the time.  It’s kind of hard to take the directive to “take cover” seriously when the snow is swirling but with any luck, it won’t be long before the snow is gone and the weather warms up and all is well (sans tornados).

Happy “Spring!”

Spring Risotto (6 servings)
1 lb 2 oz Italian Arobrio Rice
11 oz greenish tomatoes, diced
12 oz zucchini, diced
7 oz green pepper or asparagus, diced
4 oz carrot, diced
1 onion or leek, chopped
Beef stock (Ann’s Note:  Directions don’t say how much to use so I bought a re-sealable carton and heated about half of it, adding more as needed.)
5 oz butter
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Cook the onion in the oil in a saucepan and when beginning to brown, add all the vegetables except the tomatoes.  Cook 10 minutes over moderate heat and add tomatoes and salt and pepper.  Cook for 15 minutes and then pour in the rice and a little hot stock.  (Ann’s Note:  I recommend that you cook the vegetables separately and add the tomatoes at the very end and maybe cook for 1-2 minutes until softened but not mush.  Doing it this way almost turned the vegetables to mush and the tomatoes totally disintegrated.)

Continue adding the hot stock every few minutes as the rice absorbs the liquid.  It should take 20-30 minutes for the rice to cook to the ‘al dente’ stage.  Then stir in butter and serve.

Bonus recipe:  Stuffed Chicken (La Gallina Ripiena) – serves 6
1 large boiling fowl with giblets
2 carrots
1 stick celery
1 onion
1 leek
Olive oil
For the stuffing
2 slices ham or Mortadella sausage; chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
3 slices bread, soaked in milk
6 tbsp pecorino cheese, grated
8 oz ground (minced) veal or lean beef
1-2 eggs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
½ - ¾ tsp nutmeg

First make the stuffing.  In a large frying pan gently cook the chicken giblets in the oil until they change color.  Chop finely and reserve.  Add the sausage, meat and garlic to the pan and cook just until the meat starts to brown.  Mix with giblets, herbs, bread, cheese and 1 beaten egg.  If this does not bind the stuffing, add another beaten egg.

Clean, wash and dry the inside of the chicken.  Pack loosely with the stuffing – the stuffing tends to swell in cooking and you don’t want an exploding chicken.  Sew up both ends of the chicken so that nothing can escape.  Put in a large flame proof casserole with the carrots, celery, onion, leek and salt and cover with water.  The water should be about 1 inch over the chicken.  Bring to a boil and then simmer over a low heat for about 2 ½ hours, until the chicken is cooked.  Remove it from the pan, cut the threads, carefully lift out the stuffing which should be quite solid, and serve both the chicken and the stuffing sliced thinly and garnished with either fresh thyme or Tuscan salsa verde.

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