Sunday, July 1, 2007

What's for dinner?

It's been a good week for cooking. Word of the cherry pies spread to friends and neighbors, so those are disappearing fast. Last night, I threw together dinner more or less on the spot--but with so many good, fresh ingredients to work with, my rhythm was on from the start. I even managed to take some pictures.

I began by chopping up some greens and reds--specifically, another bunch of mizuna, that sort of peppery Japanese salad & stirfry green that has been in each week's CSA share, and radicchio, aka Italian chicory. The bitterness of radicchio lends itself well to risotto, a creamy rice dish that is much easier to make than you might think. It's easy to tend to its modest needs when you've got faster, flashier preparations going on other burners. Just get it started about 30 minutes before you plan to eat.

To do so, I wilted my greens in butter in a wide, shallow pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then added about 2 cups of arborio rice, stirring for a few minutes more to toast it and coat each grain with butter. Then I threw in about a cup of wine. Ideally, you'd use white, so as not to discolor the rice; but we didn't have any open, and the radicchio was going to give it a pinkish tinge anyway, so red it was.

Meanwhile, I'd filled a two-quart pan with water and tossed in a handful of frozen stock cubes. You can use bouillon cubes if you aren't in the habit of making, concentrating and freezing your own stock, and either chicken or vegetable flavor is fine. What you want is a nice hot liquid to add bit by bit to your rice. The simmering stock will gradually dissolve the rice's rich starchy coat and combine with it to produce a creamy sauce, then soften the grain within. You have to take it slow, though, so lower the heat if it starts to boil or you'll lose too much stock to evaporation.

I started adding stock to the rice about a cup at a time while I began thinking about what else would be on the dinner menu. With each addition, I gave the rice a quick stir and sprinkled it with salt. If I'd been using commercially made bouillon, which is already pretty salty, I wouldn't have needed so much, but you'd be surprised how much salt it takes to season a skillet full of rice. Each time that the liquid was nearly absorbed, in would go another cup. Beyond this, though, risotto just kind of makes itself.

And as for the what else part, I remembered that we still had a couple of Belgian endives in the fridge that I'd bought at the farm stand.

We also had two lamb loin chops, purchased on CSA pickup day from Dines Farms. I heated up a cast iron skillet on the stove while I rinsed the meat, patted it dry, and sprinkled it with salt and pepper. Simple preparations are the best way to show off quality ingredients, so all I did was brown it for a couple of minutes on each side on the stove top, then put the pan into a 400 degree oven to finish cooking for about 7 minutes. I let the finished chops rest on a plate on the countertop for a few minutes while I finished the rest of the meal.

Taking a cue from epicurious, I quartered the endives and browned them in butter for about 5 minutes total before drizzling them with balsamic vinegar.

I also grated a nice little pile of parmesan cheese while I waited for the final addition of the stock to absorb into the rice. When it was close, I dumped in the cheese and stirred it well to melt and distribute the cheese evenly into the risotto's sauce. I probably could have been a bit more aggressive with the stirring, but I like my risotto on the soupy side.

Et voila!...we had a meal. Th'usband, who normally isn't much of a lamb fan, said that it was the best he'd ever tasted. That's because it was pasture raised, and if all that running around made the meat slightly less tender, it also made it much more flavorful. Myself, I was grooving on the overall balance of flavors, and the fact that with the exception of the rice, the parmesan, and those few drops of vinegar, all the ingredients were bought straight from the area farms that produced them. Provecho!

1 comment:

Glibbidy said...

CSA's and home-brewing Rocks.