Risotto Revised

In the olden days, we met people through all the usual place:  through friends of friends, by joining activity groups, at work or school… Only occasionally, we would meet a stranger who didn’t cut us into pieces and distribute the paper bagged segments throughout the city (that was the story that kept this child in line). Now I am amazed at the frequency at which I connect with people random strangers. An online posting can create a sidetracked conversation between two people that has the effect of collapsing space and time, I know, it’s deep. Just as deep as my love for risotto! The following is Liddlemorsel’s first foray into hosting guest bloggers, and this blogger has intrigued me by his writings, facebook performing and shares a love of food. Enjoy!

R.M. Usatinsky is a Chicago-born writer and stay at home father of four. His latest collection of short fiction, “A Balmy August Wednesday” is available as a Kindle ebook here. Read his Poem-A-Day, short stories and more by visiting www.rmusatinsky.com. R.M. Usatinsky lives in The Hague.

Risotto Revised

I’m sure not many people would disagree with my saying that raising an ovo-lacto vegetarian family of six is a challenge. And now that my two older children are full-fledged teenagers, their dietary needs are beginning to take a backseat to their capricious appetites for high calorie, fatty, sweet foods that they eat too quickly and many times—due to the rigors of school and extracurricular activities—on the go.

That’s why this summer I’ve been trying some new takes on some of the traditional recipes that I’ve been preparing for my family for years with the intent of making them healthier without compromising the taste, texture or tradition of these tried and true recipes.

One of the dishes my family collectively requests I make them is risotto, the creamy, dreamy Italian rice dish that I traditionally prepare with a wild mushroom medley and enough heavy cream and grated Parmesan cheese to make anyone’s cholesterol skyrocket.

So besides setting out to make a healthier risotto, I wanted to try and re-create my family’s favorite Sunday evening dinner without re-inventing the dish into something unfamiliar that might not suit the variety of discerning palates that inhabit my dinner table.

To keep the risotto as familiar as possible, I decided that the mushrooms would stay, but I replaced the medley with a nice Chestnut mushroom whose robust flavor works as well solo as it does in tandem with other fungi. Diced, sautéed onions remained but were fused with garlic and butter in addition to extra virgin olive oil and a few extra twists of the pepper mill.

I use Arborio rice exclusively for my risotto not only because I happen to think it’s the best short grain rice for risotto, it’s also what I use (and recommend) for homemade rice pudding so I always have lots of Arborio rice on hand in my pantry.

While my new version of risotto is completely void of heavy cream, I do use a total of four tablespoons of unsalted butter. I also cut the amount of Parmesan I use (which I’m delightfully ashamed to mention) down to just three quarters of a cup.

The two remaining novelties of this dish are leeks and lemons, the former are sautéed in olive oil with the Chestnut mushrooms and set aside before starting the rice, and the juice of the latter—about four or five tablespoons—are drizzled in just before serving. I also garnish each plate with a lemon wedge which gives everyone the option to add a bit more zest to their rice rather than reaching for the salt shaker.

The end result is a risotto that is leaner without being meaner and one that doesn’t stray very far from traditional risottos. The leek and butter add to the creaminess of the rice allowing this recipe to be made without heavy cream, and the lemon serves as a nice overtone to both the flavor and smell of the dish. Finally, we have left the traditional base ingredients—mushrooms, Arborio rice, onion, olive oil and vegetable stock—so only subtle changes are noticed and the dish is as recognizable as its traditional counterpart.

Leek, Mushroom and Lemon Risotto

2 medium sized leeks, washed and trimmed

3 cups of brown-capped mushrooms

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed

6 tbsp unsalted butter

1 large onion, diced

1 3/4 cups Arborio rice

5 cups vegetable stock

Juice of 1 lemon

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 tbsp chopped chive and parsley

salt and freshly ground pepper

Lemon wedge and parsley to serve

  1. Wash leeks and mushrooms and roughly cut;
  2. Sauté in hot oil, garlic and seasoning for ten minutes or until soft; set aside;
  3. In a clean pan add 2 tbsp butter and cook the onion for about 5 minutes;
  4. Stir in rice adding a ladle of stock at a time gently stirring until absorbed;
  5. Cook for 20-25 minutes adding more liquid as needed until rice is thick and creamy;
  6. Prior to serving add remaining butter, lemon juice, seasoning and Parmesan;
  7. Serve with lemon wedges and sprigs of flat-leaf parsley.

Serves four