Thursday, 20 September 2012

:: Food from the Past ::

Evergreen Pesto Risotto with Deglazed Seasonal Mushrooms
:: Megann’s Kitchen ::

:: evergreen pesto risotto with deglazed seasonal mushrooms & basil flowers ::

One of my favourite cafés of all time was in Sydney when I lived there almost 10 years ago. There was a little out of the way place in Surry Hills which had the most amazing pasta dishes that I had ever tasted. The menu was written on a roll of butcher’s paper & back then, nothing was over $19. No kidding, this was restaurant quality food but it felt as if you were sitting in a hot & busy Italian Kitchen with Nona at the helm.
Mick & I would frequent IlBarretto for the amazing quality pasta dishes at a respectable price. We had a few favourites - One was a Duck Ragu with Papardelle Pasta. The richness & depth of flavour in this dish left you yearning for more…. I was addicted! The other was a vibrant green Basil Pesto Risotto. At the time, I had not experienced a risotto like it. The drive of the basil bursts into your mouth, refreshing & filling with every mouthful. Ahhhh, I can still remember the flavours of these amazing dishes.
We loved this establishment. The fact that it was a no bookings deal, which left you taking a number & sometimes waiting hours at the pub across the road, simply added to its charm. It, in a way, was our little Italian getaway.

When we moved to Darwin with the RAAF, I was consequently devastated at the fact that I would no longer be able to have my favourite risotto for dinner. While in the heat, I wasn’t up for a Duck Ragu, but longed for the fresh risotto that I loved. As a result, Mick & I set about in the kitchen one weekend to recreate the “Pesto Risotto” we had become so fond of. Ok, so it is a far cry from the energetic green Il Baretto dish, but I like it just the same. After many years of tweaking, we have discovered a beautiful balance of flavours in this risotto dish that is great all year round, but absolutely perfect for a fresh Spring or Summer dish.

Now, shows like MasterChef have deemed Risotto the dish most difficult to make. Well, it’s not. Everyone loves it & all you have to do is know when it is ready to pull it off the heat & serve straight away. Follow these simple instructions for a perfect Risotto every time.

:: making the basil pesto for the risotto ::

1 cup firmly packed basil leaves
½ cup of baby spinach
¼ cup flat leaf parsley
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cups toasted pine nuts
1 clove garlic, peeled.
Sea salt & Pepper
80 grams finely grated parmesan

Put pine nuts & garlic clove in a blender or food processor & process until roughly chopped. Scrape down the sides with a small spatula. Add olive oil, parsley, basil  & spinach leaves. Blend. Pause the machine once or twice and scrape down the sides with the spatula to ensure even consistency. Process mixture until a smooth paste. Scrape pesto into a bowl & stir through the grated parmesan. Cover the bowl with cling film touching the surface of the pesto so it is not exposed to air to prevent oxidisation. Set aside until needed.

:: blending the pesto in my KitchenAid food processor ::

Quick Kitchen
:: To prepare in advance for a quick dinner, spoon pesto into a clean and dry 250ml screw-top jar. Press down with the back of a spoon to ensure there are no air pockets & seal with a film of olive oil. Store in the refrigerator until required.
:: No time? My local IGA in Beaumont Street makes a great, freshly prepared pesto that can easily be purchased to stir through the risotto at the last minute.

:: adding stock one ladleful at a time ::

zest & juice of ½ lemon
1.5 litres chicken stock
200ml dry white wine
120g unsalted butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 brown onion, very finely chopped
   (I like to use my Tupperware Smooth Chopper or Food Processor)
2 cups arborio rice
Freshly-grated parmesan cheese, to taste

:: makes approximately 6-8 serves

Heat the stock & wine in a saucepan bringing it to a gentle simmer. In a heavy-based, deep, non-stick frying pan, melt 60g of the butter & olive oil over gentle heat & sauté onion until softened, translucent & fragrant without colouring. This should take about 10 minutes. Add the rice & raise heat to a medium temperature. Stir constantly for about 1 minute to ensure rice is evenly coated with butter & looking slightly translucent. Add one ladleful at a time of hot stock. Simmer, stirring constantly as the liquid is absorbed. Taste the rice after 15-20 minutes. How quickly it cooks depends on the level of your heat. It should be soft with a hint "nuttiness" in the centre of each grain. Check the seasoning carefully. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water.

:: remove from heat & stir through the flavour accents ::

When the rice is ready, remove the pan from heat. Add the remaining butter, lemon zest, lemon juice & the pesto mixture. Stir the ingredients through, making sure the melted butter & pesto has distributed evenly. Place a lid on the pan and allow to rest for just 2-3 minutes. This is the most important part of making the perfect risotto but I find it is just enough time for me to warm the plates & sauté + deglaze the mushrooms. Serve without delay.

Kitchen Notes
:: I like to compare my “al dente” risotto rice grain to the toasted pine nuts that I prepared earlier in the dish. Take a bite of one of these & take note of the texture. You will find that it is nutty in texture with a little “bite” to it, yet smooth & creamy when chewed. Your risotto grain should be similar when tasting for its readiness.
:: I actually prefer a looser risotto. If you find that it absorbs too much moisture becoming thick & gluggy and you’ve run out of stock mixture, simply add some boiling water from the kettle.
:: To make this a vegetarian option, simply swap out the chicken stock for a vegetarian substitute, such as vegetable stock.

:: seasonal mushrooms, browned & deglazed ::

Quick Deglazed Mushrooms
500g seasonal mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil
50g butter
100ml white wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut mushrooms to a similar size to allow even cooking. Heat a heavy-based frying pan over medium-high heat then add oil and butter. Add mushrooms & toss to coat. Continue cooking, moving mushrooms so that they brown & cook evenly but are still firm. Add the white wine, salt & pepper to taste. Serve when the wine has almost evaporated, giving the mushrooms a beautiful gloss.

:: preparation is key - have everything at the ready ::
:: using my Tupperware Smooth Chopper to finely dice onions ::

Kitchen preparation
:: To ensure the process is stress-free, prepare as much as you can before you start cooking. Prepare the chicken & wine stock on the stove mixture, juice and zest the lemon, prepare the mushrooms, grate the parmesan, measure your wine & risotto rice plus weigh out the unsalted butter + chop each into smaller pieces for easier melting.

:: a few delicious mouthfuls of Megann's Kitchen evergreen risotto ::

Serve & Style
:: Place risotto onto a warmed plate. It should gently ooze out to a delicious raised green puddle. Place desired amount of deglazed mushrooms on top of the risotto dish with a small drizzle of olive oil. If you like the salty sweetness of cheese like me, add some additional shaved parmesan or crumbled goats cheese. If available, I also like to add edible flora such as basil flowers.

:: risotto isn't something to be scared of - try it! ::

:: To learn some more about making the perfect risotto, do some research. I found the Essential Ingredient & Australian Gourmet Traveller had some great cooking tips.

:: browning of the seasonal mushrooms ::

Quick Kitchen
:: Making Ahead: Although risotto cannot be prepared in full ahead of time, you can cook the risotto up through the coating of the rice in butter & olive oil. Place into a sealed container in the fridge until ready to finish. The moment the first addition of the stock mixture is added the dish will take 16-20 minutes to complete, depending on how chilled the rice is. I applied this method for the feature photo, not bad!
Leftovers: Any leftover risotto can be made into Arancini Balls. This is your desired risotto that is coated in breadcrumbs & fried in olive oil. This can be a great tapas style meal. They can also be a fantastic starter to a meal for dinner guests.

:: evergreen pesto risotto with deglazed seasonal mushrooms & parmesan ::

Please enjoy another Megann's Kitchen creation in your home

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