Trouble With Toast

Recipe: Champagne Risotto

December 14, 2006
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I looooooove risotto. Actually, I love pretty much any rice dish, but risotto is probably my second-favorite version (with the first being paella). People think risotto is a difficult and time-consuming dish, but the truth is that once you master the basic techniques, you could probably make it in your sleep. The most important things to remember when cooking risotto are: 1) make sure that ALL of the rice gets coated with butter and toasted (but not browned) before adding any liquid, and 2) do add the stock gradually (about 1/2 cup at a time) and wait until each round of liquid is absorbed before adding the next. The first tip will give the rice a really great bite, and the second will allow the creamy texture to develop by slowly drawing out the starch.

I’ve tried many varieties of risotto, but when I saw that this one (which, in case you’re interested, I saw on an episode of “Everyday Italian”) used champagne instead of dry white wine, I was intrigued. After all, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a big fan of the bubbly–and New Year’s Eve shouldn’t be the only time of year that the corks get popped!

Not only is this dish delicious and filling, but it looks impressive on the plate. I’d recommend pairing it with a small green salad (if you feel so inclined, that is–the risotto is VERY filling on its own) and the leftover champagne. Enjoy!

Serves 2 people (I doubled the recipe and it turned out great). Cooking time: about an hour.

  • 4 thin slices prosciutto
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
  • 12 asparagus spears, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup Arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
  • 3/4 cup Champagne
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the slices of prosciutto on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake until the prosciutto slices are almost completely crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes. The slices will crisp up even more as they cool. Reserve for garnish.

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Blanch the asparagus in the chicken stock for 2 minutes. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon. Set the asparagus aside and keep
the chicken stock at a low simmer.

In another medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter. Continue toasting the rice, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes more. Add the Champagne and simmer until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the
simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total. Remove from the heat. Gently stir in the asparagus, remaining butter, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Spoon the risotto into serving dishes and garnish by breaking the crisp prosciutto into smaller pieces over the top of the risotto. Serve immediately.


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Recipe: Smoked Sausage, Butternut Squash, and Wild Rice Soup

December 13, 2006
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Ah, soup–nothing says wintertime quite like a steaming bowl of soupy goodness. With that in mind, and with a butternut squash in my fridge, I set out to find a recipe that would accommodate both my on-hand ingredients and my desire for something comforting and warm.

I don’t normally gravitate toward Emeril Lagasse’s recipes. I find them to be very much like their creator–pompous, overrated, and “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” However, when I saw the recipe for Smoked Sausage, Butternut Squash, and Wild Rice Soup, I decided to put my distaste for Mr. “Bam!” aside and give his food a go.

Overall, I liked the soup. The meaty kick of the sausage balanced the sweetness of the squash, and the rice added a nice texture. Next time, I’ll probably add more spice–maybe some red pepper flakes or just some extra salt and pepper–but this is definitely a satisfying cold-weather meal.

Serves 10 people. Cooking time: approximately two hours.

  • 1 medium butternut squash, about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 cups chicken stock
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped onions
  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 3/4 pound smoked sausage (I used turkey kielbasa), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves (I actually forgot this)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the squash with 1 tablespoon of the oil, salt, and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast for one hour. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Peel and seed the squash. In a blender, puree the squash with 2 cups of the chicken stock. Puree until smooth and set aside. In a saucepan, over medium heat, bring 4 cups of the stock and 1/2 cup of the chopped onions to a simmer. Stir in the rice and cook until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about one hour (note: it didn’t take me nearly this long, more like 20-30 minutes), stirring occasionally with a fork. Remove the rice from the pan and cool. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, add the remaining tablespoon of oil. When the oil is hot, add the sausage and brown for 3 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cups onion and corn. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 3 minutes. Add the remaining 6 cups of stock and squash puree. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Skim off any fat that rises to the surface (note: if you use turkey or chicken sausage, you can probably skip this step, as the meat is very lean). Stir in the rice and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the half and half, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and serve.

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