Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Easy Risotto

Risotto is one of my favorite foods to make because it's so easy and versatile. I make it on days when I don't have anything planned for dinner and I'm not sure what I have stocked in the fridge. It's hard to get it wrong and it's so easy to wing it. After you've made it a few times, you don't need measuring cups or recipes. And you only need one pan. It doesn't hurt that it's creamy, rich and flavorful either. This is a rough recipe for what I put together the other day.

3/4 cup short grain brown rice (1/4 cup per serving. This will make three good sized servings.)
salted simmering water
olive oil
1 onion (on the small side) diced
2 cloves of garlic
2 chicken breasts (also on the small side) cooked and sliced
6 or so button mushrooms diced
1/2 cup green peas (I used thawed frozen peas)
3 cups warm chicken broth
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (plus as much as your hear desires to top it off with)
salt and pepper to taste

1) Since brown rice takes so long to get tender, I pre-cooked it a little to save time. To do this, just simmer the rice in some salted water for about 10 - 15 minutes (or however long it takes to dice up your veggies and prepare your chicken) and drain. (Tip: you can keep brown rice prepared this way in your fridge for a two weeks or so. And you can use it just as you would uncooked rice. If you do a batch on a weekend, this can save a lot of time during the week, whether you're making risotto, pilaf, plain rice or any other rice dish.)

2) Turn heat on medium high. Saute the mushrooms with about half of your garlic in a little olive oil, just until they're tender. Then take them out of the pan and put them aside.

3) Put a little more olive oil in your pan and saute the onions and remaining garlic until the onions are starting to become translucent. Then throw in your drained and precooked rice. Heat up the rice in the oil for a few minutes before pouring in about a half cup broth. Stir the rice rather often. When the broth has been fully absorbed/evaporated, add another half cup. Continue adding broth like this, little by little, until the rice is just about tender (you might not use all the broth, or you might need more). At this point, add in the milk, Parmesan, chicken, mushrooms, peas and salt and pepper to taste. Stir while you wait for the liquid to absorb/evaporate. Then plate, top with Parmesan if you so wish, and enjoy!

When I said that risotto is a versatile food, I really meant it. Traditionally risotto is made with Arborio rice, which is higher in starch and will give you a creamier risotto. I used brown rice here because it's healthier. Feel free to use whatever rice you want (although round grain or short grain is recommended). Also, a splash of white wine is often used in place of the first cup of chicken broth, but I didn't have any at the time. You could use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Or water instead of broth and add some herbs or spices towards the end for flavor. You could use heavy cream instead of milk, or leave it out all together. I sliced raw chicken breasts up lengthwise into 1/3 inch thick slices, rubbed some olive oil, herbs and garlic on them, browned them on both sides (in the same pan) and then cut them into bite sizes. You could poach the chicken, you could grill the chicken, you could leave out the chicken. You could use any vegetable that suits your fancy (I particularly enjoy risotto with spinach or asparagus). There are a million things you can add to this recipe and nothing I used can't be replaced with something else. :)

Pasta with Sardines

This is the classic lazy person meal since the only real work you need to do is grate lemon peel and chop one onion and one clove of garlic.  So simple and so yummy.  I had to make dinner in a pinch the other night and I desperately wanted a carb-fest so naturally I turned to this classic.  This is also great if your fridge is bare since all the ingredients are pantry staples.

Everybody has a different version of this recipe - I normally add tomatoes but I decided to stay faithful to the Mark Bittman version which he claims is "pre-Columbian."  Click here for the original Mark Bittman video.

makes two generous servings

one tin of sardines in olive oil
one small onion
one clove of garlic
two thin slices of stale bread, rendered into breadcrumbs
one teaspoon of grated lemon peel
one heaping tablespoon of capers
8 oz. spaghetti
olive oil

add olive oil and breadcrumbs to a large saucepan over high heat - turn the breadcrumbs until they are toasted golden brown.  Remove from pan.

Boil water for pasta.  Add pasta and cook while making the sauce.

Add olive oil, diced onion and garlic to the pan and turn down the heat to medium high.  Saute until the onion is soft and nearly translucent, around five minutes.

Add the sardines along with the oil in the tin, the lemon zest and the capers.  Crush the sardines to make a sauce, but leave some smallish sized chunks for flavor. 

At this point your pasta should be done cooking.  Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce along with half of the toasted breadcrumbs.  Serve with the rest of the breadcrumbs as a garnish along with some Parmesan cheese, if you please :)  Bon apetit!

I usually make a really simple side salad to serve with this since it doesn't have much going on in the veg department.  Just toss some arugula leaves with lemon juice (from the lemon you zested earlier) and olive oil, salt and pepper.  You could add some of the toasted breadcrumbs to this as well, and maybe a diced tomato.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunburst Pattypan Squash Pasta


I was at the farmer's market last week and I saw these beautiful squash for sale - I absolutely had to pick them up!  I had never tried them before but they just looked so gorgeous I couldn't resist.  I diced them and sauteed with onions, garlic and tomato for a really simple summertime lunch.  The sunburst pattypan squash has a really delicate flavor so it's best to cook simply if you really want to taste it!

Makes two generous servings

Two pattypan squash - each about the size of a fist (could use other types of summer squash as well, about one half pound total)
Two cloves garlic
One small onion
One small tomato
8 oz. pasta (used penne in this case but any will do)
1/2 cup mild-flavored Parmesan cheese
Olive oil

Dice all the veggies.

Put water for pasta to boil and add pasta when ready.  While waiting,  cook the veggies.

Add onions, garlic and olive oil to a saucepan and saute on medium heat for five minutes or until soft and tender.  Add squash and saute for a few more minutes, then finally add the diced tomato.  Cook for a few minutes until just done.  Turn the heat down while you wait for the pasta to finish cooking.

Drain pasta and combine with cooked veg and stir in 1/4 cup of the grated cheese.  Garnish with the remaining cheese.  Bon apetit!