After making Daniel Boulud’s Curried Cream of Cauliflower and Apple Soup, I had one more head of cauliflower to use. I still wanted to come up with an uncommon recipe, but one match made in heaven I couldn’t ignore is cauliflower and cheese. And one of my favorite dishes is risotto. I thought, wouldn’t a cauliflower risotto be nice?
Risottos are feared by many because they are believed to be long and hard to make, but it’s an unjust reputation. You sure have to take your time when making a risotto. The reason why they end up so creamy is because the short-grain rice used for making risotto contains a lot of starch that’s slowly released throughout the cooking, so you have to keep an eye on it and stir often or it will stick together and to the bottom of your pan. I’m always disappointed when I detect that cream has been added to a risotto to make it artificially creamier. It’s a dish that is rich enough on its own; adding cream makes its texture dessert-like and hides the natural nutty taste of the rice.
But long to make, it is not. Cooking a risotto, from sautéing your onions to adding the last ladle of broth, should take little more than 20 minutes. You do have to stay in the kitchen during that period to stir your risotto once in a while. You don’t have to stir it constantly. A couple quick stirs once every few minutes is enough. When I make risotto, I dice my onion and celery, measure my rice and start cooking it right away. I then use the rice’s cooking time to prepare and measure the rest of my ingredients as I need to add them to the recipe. No time wasted!
And hard to make? Not at all. No special techniques need to be mastered to make risotto. All you have to do is learn a basic recipe and know how to detect when your rice is al dente: grains should be plump but not mushy. Like pasta, it should be soft but still retain some texture when you bite into it.
When you master the basic onion/white wine/parmesan cheese recipe, it’s really easy to come up with your own flavorings and additions. Believe me: you will want to create variations just to get the excuse to make it more often. I challenge you to make risotto tonight, especially if it’s a week night, just to exorcize the idea that risottos should be relegated to special occasions.
The basic things you need to make a delicious risotto:
- High-starch short-grain rice. The best kinds are Arborio Superfino and Carnaroli, but sometimes supermarkets carry rice simply labeled “risotto rice” – they are ok to use.
- A heavy pot, or a pan with a thick bottom. It prevents the rice from sticking. I like to use my Le Creuset cast iron casserole.
- 25 to 30 minutes on your hands! It’s not too much to ask, is it?
Cauliflower, Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese and Chili Risotto
My favorite basic risotto recipe is Jamie Oliver’s. I like his addition of celery to the base, which adds depth of flavor and a bit of crunchy. I had the surprise to find a cauliflower risotto recipe in Oliver’s 20-Minute-Meals iPhone application. He adds chili to the mix, which I think is a great idea because it prevents an otherwise rather mild combination from being boring.
Makes 4 main-course servings
1-2 tablespoons of butter
1 large red onion, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
¼ to ½ teaspoon dried chili (depending on the heat you’re looking for)
5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked, stems discarded
1 small cauliflower head
1 ½ cup risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)
1 cup dry white wine
3 1/3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
85 g grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place your pan on a low heat. Add the butter to the hot pan with the onion, celery, chili, thyme and a splash of olive oil. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft.
While your base cooks, break the cauliflower into florets and slice the stem (you should measure about 3 to 3 ½ cups cauliflower). Bring the stock to the boil in a saucepan, turn the heat to low and add the cauliflower to the broth.
Add the rice to your pan and stir it with the onion mixture. Stir and fry the rice for a minute until it looks a bit translucent, then add the wine and keep stirring until it has been absorbed by the rice.
Add a first ladle of hot broth (with the bits of cauliflower you catch with it) to the pan. Stir once in a while. When you see that most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, add another ladle of broth, and so on until you’ve used most of your broth.
By now the rice should look oozy and creamy. Taste the rice to check if it’s al dente. Like pasta, it should be soft and chewy and still retain some texture. If it’s still a bit crunchy, add more broth a little at a time, tasting often to make sure it doesn’t overcook and become mushy. If you don’t have enough broth to reach the desired consistency, add boiling water.
Once the rice is done, take the pan off the heat and stir in about half your parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Some will also stir in a knob of butter at this point but I find it unnecessary. Season with salt and pepper and taste to make sure it’s as delicious as should be.
Spoon the risotto in warm bowls, sprinkle the remaining cheese and some more freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle a few drops of your best olive oil or, if you feel super fancy, white truffle oil, as a finishing touch.
Inspired by Jamie Oliver’s 20-minute-meals iPhone application.