Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Idea Of A Good Week-End

I am taking a break from Seattle to write about something that I actually cooked! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I finally had the chance to cook. It’s been so long! I had the perfect reason too – Archna was in town for the week-end. We had great deal of cooking and eating planned for ourselves, and not a whole lot else.

My thoughts were running rampant in deciding what to make for dinner. It’s been so long since I made anything that I wasoverloaded by ideas. I finally settled on a risotto with grilled veg and a salad. Silly me. I thought it had cooled down enough in Boston for me to be able to stand over a stove for thirty minutes. Not so much! I had to take frequent breaks to sit down and take deep breaths in front of the AC. And drink wine. The wine really helped.

I had mushrooms in the fridge, as well as a jar of saffron that I have been dying to use but haven’t had the chance. And so, a mushroom and saffron risotto was born. I wanted to boost the mushroom flavor of the risotto beyond what fresh mushrooms could do. I went to my personal playground, Whole Foods, to get some wild mushrooms to make the mushroom risotto a little more interesting. This is when I found out that fresh chanterelles (my very favorite mushroom) run a cool $40 a pound. I have always had expensive taste.

This is right about when dried mushrooms came in. Dried wild mushrooms have an incredibly potent and pungent, earthy-mushroomy (obviously) smell/taste. When steeped in boiling water, the flavor leeches out from the mushrooms to create a flavorful broth. Not surprisingly, dried chanterelles are far more reasonably priced than fresh and, I think, can impart a great deal more concentrated flavor to the dish than their fresh precursors.

The mushroom infusion, along with the saffron, flavored the chicken stock that I used for the risotto. In this way, the flavor spreads evenly throughout the rice, more thoroughly than if the flavorings (saffron, mushroom juice...) were added to the rice directly.

It worked! The flavor of the saffron did not overpower that of the mushrooms, as I was afraid it would (and has in the past). The baby portabella mushrooms maintained their integrity nicely – they still had a lot of bite after all the stirring and cooking was done. I was very happy with myself. The velvety risotto, served alongside roasted zucchini, a salad with heirloom tomatoes, a bottle of Carmenere, and much catching up with one’s closest friend made for a perfect Friday night.

Mushroom and Saffron Risotto

3 cups chicken stock
¼ tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
8 oz cremini (baby portabella) mushrooms, caps only - sliced thinly
1 shallot, finely chopped
0.02 lbs dried chanterelles (weird measurement, I know – it was a small container from Whole Foods)
1 cup carnaroli rice (arborio would fit the bill just as well)
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
handful of finely chopped fresh parsley

1) Steep dried chanterelles in 1 cup boiling water. Let stand until water cools. Squeeze the mushrooms dry and finely chop. Add mushroom infusion along with saffron to chicken stock and bring to a simmer (beware of the sand left at the bottom of the mushroom soaking vessel).
2) Add olive oil and 1 tbsp of the butter to a large sauté pan on medium heat. Once butter melts, add shallots and both fresh and dry mushrooms. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sauté until the water evaporates from the mushrooms.
3) Add the rice and toast while stirring for about 2 minutes, until the rice becomes translucent.
4) Add wine and stir until absorbed.
5) Add chicken stock ½ cup at a time, stirring until all liquid is absorbed before adding the next ladleful.
6) When rice is tender but not mushy, add parmesan, 1 tbsp of butter, parsley and season with salt and pepper. Eat right away!

Oh but only if the eating had stopped there. Archna is not my friend for nothing. I think the eating was only interrupted by sleep. She first requested the truffle fries from the Pig and then decided to return the dinner favor by cooking later that night. Problem is that whenever Archna cooks, she makes about a gajillion dishes, each of which can feed a small army. She had no fewer than four pots going at the same time! On the menu for the following night: raita, onion salad, dal, okra (bhindi), aloo gobi, and rice (naturally). The best part is eating with your hands. Don’t know why it always tastes so much better that way. Below is a picture of Archna’s bhindi, which I one day hope to recreate (with Archna coaching me on the phone, I suspect).

Needless to say, my fridge is no longer empty. Cooking, eating, shopping, and very dumb movies were just what we both needed. Perfect remedy for two burned and tired girls.


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