Tag Archives: Like the back of my hand…

Like the back of my hand: Mushroom Risotto w/ ’06 Anchor Old Foghorn

6 Oct

risotto and foghorn

Risotto has always been one of my favorite Italian dishes not only for its rich creamy texture and toothsome bite but for the wide range of flavors it can take on based on available ingredients.  It was also a dish that I assumed was out of my league to make for myself.  A little courage and a little research on my part rid me of my apprehensions and I have made several versions of this dish to date.  One of my favorites, both out at restaurants or in my own kitchen is mushroom risotto.  The savoriness and soft texture of the mushroom pairs perfectly with the creamy/al dente body of the risotto.  With a little practice and an attentive eye, the mystique of risotto can be dissolved even by an amateur like me.

Dish: Mushroom Risotto

Ingredient Rollcall:

  • 1 cup of  high-starch short-grain rice – arborio is the most easily available in the US at most grocery stores, though Carnaroli is more commonly used in Italy.
  • ~3 cups of stock – chicken is most common, though I used a 2:1 mix of chicken and beef stock for a richer flavor.  Vegetable stock could certainly be used to keep the dish vegetarian.
  • ~1 cup of wine – again, white wine is traditional, though I used a mix of red wine and dry sherry for color and depth of flavor
  • ~2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, diced (though I used green onion in a pinch)
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • large handfull of mushrooms, medium dice (any variety will do, I happened to have plain old button on-hand)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

How I do it:

  1. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Saute diced onion, mushrooms, garlic, salt and pepper until onions are translucent, ~5-7 minutes.
  3. Add rice to pan and saute until translucent around edges, another 5-7 minutes.  In general, you don’t want the onions browning, as the caramelization will overpower lighter risottos, but the richer nature of this recipe can handle a little Maillard.
  4. In 1/2 to 2/3 cup doses, add stock to the pan and stir often.  Do not add more stock until the previous dose is nearly absorbed.  The rice should start to develop a creamy “sauce” as you continue to cook off the starch from the rice. This should take another 15-20 minutes to cook through all the stock.
  5. When the final liquid addition is nearly absorbed, remove from the heat, and quickly stir in the butter and parmesan until fully melted. The resulting texture should be creamy, but not soupy.  The risotto should spread on the plate, but not leave a puddle of excess liquid.  The rice should be al dente, with a toothsome bite, not mushy.

The key to a good risotto is a watchful eye and active stirring hand.  The more you stir, the more starch will slough off the rice, lending to a creamier texture in the end.  In fact, many recipes omit the finishing butter and cheese altogether, with sufficiently creamy results.  This is another option for the health conscious.  If you happen to know any people like that.


Coating the rice in olive oil

Anchor Old Foghorn, first brewed in 1975, was the first modern bareleywine brewed in the reborn American craft industry.  Its elder status among its peers is well-deserved as its depth of flavor is rarely matched within the style.  This bottle has been sitting for over three years and has certainly matured with age.  Notes of dark, overripe fig, raisin and black cherries are highlighted by anise and caramel.  The dry-hopping has imparted a predominantly herbal character as time has passed.  The dark fruity esters in this strong ale served as a great complement to the mushrooms, red wine and beef stock in the risotto.


Like the back of my hand: Spaghetti alla Carbonara

17 Sep

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

The first in a series of recipes that I have made so many times that I could make them blindfolded – Spaghetti alla Carbonara.  A dish introduced to me by my best high school friend and his Italian mother, I was given this disclaimer beforehand which I pass on here – you might not want to know what goes into the “sauce”.  Forget any ideas you had about having a nice, light pasta dinner.  If I told you a sauce was made out of bacon grease, raw eggs and cheese – is that something you might be interested in?  Well, apparently my answer was something along the lines of Bring it ON, because here I am 7 or 8 years later making this dish a couple times a month.  Traditionally, SaC is a simple sauce of pancetta and its drippings, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and plenty of fresh-ground pepper tossed with hot, al dente pasta which melts the cheese and  “cooks” the eggs just enough to thicken into a sauce.  Of course, I’ve never been one to stick with tradition and tend to tinker and embellish based on what sounds good to me or what I have on hand.  Here’s the version I made tonight:

Dish: Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Ingredient Roll Call:

  • 1/2 lb long-format dried pasta ( I like bucatini)
  • 3-4 strips of bacon (or pacetta or guanciale if you can find it.  Bacon works just fine, though)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 1/3 cup grated hard Italian cheese (parmesan, romano, etc)
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • My Embellishments:
    • half an onion, thinly sliced
    • half a red bell pepper, thinly sliced
    • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
    • splash each of balsamic vinegar and red wine
    • dash of dried Italian herbs
    • Serves 1 giant plate or 2 normal-person servings.  Don’t judge me.  I’m a growing boy.

How I do it:

  1. Slice bacon into thin strips and saute over medium heat with a splash of olive oil until fat begins to render out
  2. Add onion, red bell pepper and garlic with a dash of salt and balsamic vinegar and continue to saute until softened, 10 minutes or so
  3. Combine beaten eggs, grated cheese, dash of salt and ground pepper in a bowl and set aside
  4. Boil pasta until 3/4 or so cooked, drain and add to saute pan with bacon and other ingredients
  5. Add a splash of wine and cook on high for a few minutes until wine is more or less cooked off.
  6. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 1-2 minutes before adding egg and cheese mixture
  7. Stir quickly until cheese melts and eggs coagulate into a rich sauce.
  8. Warm a plate in the microwave for a minute or two before plating pasta.  It’ll keep your food warm longer.  It makes a difference.  Trust me.

Is this health food?  GOD no.  Is it high brow?  Not exactly (it was named after the coal miners of Italy).  What it is is amazingly simple comfort food that is ready in half an hour and hits all the right spots.  Just don’t think about the sauce.  Some things are better when you just indulge.

Disclaimer: Do NOT eat this every day.  It will undoubtedly make you fat.  It also contains raw/undercooked eggs.  If that freaks you out – first, settle down.  Second, don’t eat it.  Make a nice alfredo or something.

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