Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Carb Overload Continues

Annnnnd, we're on to risotto! Yet another first in the Chef Valerie portfolio.

Throughout school, I've discovered that I've stayed away from trying to cook certain things in the past due to fear. I know. That sounds absurd, right? I think I feel that way because of the perfectionist in me. Those who know me well know that I'm extremely competitive with myself. From running to cycling to cooking, I could care less what the person next to me is trying to accomplish. I'm in competition with nobody but me and that's how I've always been. It's a good and bad thing, all at once. I think at a young age, I learned to take care of myself in certain ways and that's yielded quite an independent outcome as I've grown up. Though I certainly feel at times that it's a character flaw, I normally think nobody can challenge or push me except for, well, me. I'm working on that. (Insert embarrassed face.) 

Anyway, I've never tried risotto because I didn't think I'd make it well and that it'd be a flop. My evil twin, Perfectionist Valerie, takes over in these moments and puts thoughts in my head much like I had in high school: "it's better to not try at something than it would be to fail at it". I mean, honestly. How dumb is that? I think about how, if I had kids and my daughter was me, I'd either smack her or cry because she felt that way. Allison, I'm sure you're shaking your head as you read this...

Back to the food. Cooking risotto, I've since found, is actually one of the most therapeutic things I've done in a while. I realize that sounds totally weird, but it might be the perfect dish for a perfectionist to cook. It takes time and some TLC, but it's methodical and precise, much like how I can be sometimes. Chef Jessica started the morning by showing us a silly little video of these animated rice kernels who rapped a song - in Italian - about the greatness of rice. Haha, I just giggled out loud to myself thinking about it, actually. Italians use many different kinds of rice to make risotto, but three in particular are the most common: arborio, vialone nano and carnaroli. Specific rices are naturally coated with amylopectin which is a soluble starch that slowly dissolves, creating a thickening agent in liquid. Arborio, for example, has a really high percentage of amylopectin so risotto dishes made with it are usually rich and substantial.

As you cook risotto, the starch gradually releases into the liquid and, slowly, the characteristic creamy texture begins to come together. Whatever you're using for the liquid, be it stock, wine, water - whatever - the rice begins to absorb the flavor and it's actually really cool just how much it does. That's due to the liquid concentrating as it cooks down so risotto is almost like a vehicle for any flavors and ingredients you can think of! You commonly see risotto made with farro these days, as well. Farro is a grain that's basically an ancestor of modern wheat. It's extremely healthful (as much protein as in quinoa, most notably!) and I like it because I feel like I'm eating something kinda bad for me but it's not.

We made the classic risotto alla parmigiana, risotto con fungi (mushrooms) and farrotto alla primavera (spring veggies). All three dishes were dynamite, seriously. After taking a photo of the risotto alla parmigiana, I realized how totally boring it looks. I think you'll agree:
It's sad that I can't share the amazing aroma and taste of this dish with you. It's even sadder that its awesomeness doesn't translate in a photo. I didn't take photos of the other dishes for this reason but holy crap, that farrotto was BOMB. So so good, fresh and delicious.

At any rate, it was really great getting into the diversity of risotto. I enjoyed this day, fully! What's even better is I realized that being afraid to do anything in the kitchen is totally and completely stupid. I'm no longer operating with that mentality, from this day forward. 


Ami said...

Crackee there will be NO child abuse!

Allie A said...

Yep, shaking my head indeed.

And I am also shaking my head because I'm still mad Bryan was the beneficiary of your risotto and not me.

(Very cool facts about the thickening agents in the rice, btw.)