Taste Test

Re-creating a Rich Recipe for Risotto

    My wife, Maureen, and I were dining at a San Francisco restaurant not long ago, and she couldn’t decide what to eat until she saw the waiter delivering a risotto dish to a table nearby. Without hesitation she said, “I’ll have that!”
    When I asked her why she chose that particular dish, she said it just looked so good she wanted to try it, even without knowing exactly what it was. She said the colors, texture and overall visual appearance instantly appealed to her.
    We then had a discussion about what actually made that dish look so appetizing. What drew her eye to it even before she knew what it was or what was in it? And we agreed not to ask the waiter what the ingredients were, because we wanted to see if we could determine them just by tasting.
    We knew it was some kind of risotto, so we weren’t totally in the dark. When our food was served, I sampled her risotto eagerly because it truly looked delicious, especially with its garnish of pesto and a Parmesan cracker.
    I made some notes describing the ingredients and visual characteristics. We could easily see two types of tomatoes (one bright red, the other dark-wine color; both probably heirloom varieties) and some sort of mushroom in the risotto. When we tasted it, the distinct earthy flavor of porcini mushrooms was apparent. We also noticed a slight astringent yet pleasant taste we agreed was champagne.
    The next day we set out to re-create the dish, and we both agreed we came very close. The recipe that follows is my rendition of this truly outstanding risotto. We not only had fun testing our ability to re-create something just by taste, but we also now have a great new recipe. Even though the ingredients and technique are simple, the result is fabulous. It looks visually appealing and is quite delicious.


For the risotto:
4    cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
1½    cups champagne, dry
1    tablespoon butter
1    tablespoon olive oil
2    tablespoons shallots, minced
1½    cups Arborio rice
2    cups sliced fresh porcini mushrooms (white button mushrooms can be substituted)
2    cups heirloom tomatoes (several different colors if possible) seeded and chopped
¼    cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1    cup of your favorite pesto
Salt and black pepper to taste

For the cheese crackers:
1    cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

To make the cheese crackers:

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon grated cheese, spreading evenly. Cook over medium heat until the cheese is golden brown on the bottom. Carefully remove the cooked cheese with a spatula and place on a flat surface. Let cool a few minutes, remove and set aside. Makes 6 to 8 crackers. These can be made up to 2 hours in advance.

To make the risotto:

Combine the broth and the champagne in a saucepan, bring to a simmer and keep hot. Combine the butter and olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the shallots and cook a minute or two until they are translucent. Add the rice and stir until the rice is completely coated. Add 1 cup of the broth mixture and stir continuously until all of the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the broth mixture ½ cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the risotto has cooked for 10 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and another ½ cup of liquid. Continue stirring until this liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process ½ cup at a time until only ½ cup remains. Add the tomatoes and the last of the broth and stir until all the liquid is absorbed. The risotto should be creamy but the rice should be a little al dente, firm to the bite. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese until it has melted and is incorporated into the risotto. Taste the rice and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Spoon the risotto into serving dishes and garnish each with one tablespoon of the pesto. Place one of the Parmigiano crackers on top in a decorative manner and serve at once. Serves four.
—By Roy Creekmore
—Photography by Paul Skrentny

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