Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Variations on a Theme

The Lone Ranger and I accepted an invitation to Miami from my old friends GBF & the Sweet Baboo for Thanksgiving. We were assured of balmy weather, golfies, trips to South Beach, and afternoon dips in their inviting swimming pool. Who could refuse, right? Our trip, however, coincided with Homeland Security's crackdown on underwear bombers, and flip flop highjackers. I know this is gonna put people off, but the whole airport safety program is an exercise in futility. It's the mere pretense of protection, going nowhere near far enough in actually stopping acts of terrorism; it only manages to irritate the traveling public, causing them to muse about becoming terrorists themselves. The real aim is to cover the ass of every ineffectual politician in Washington, allowing them to appear to take "the war on terrorism" seriously. Well, we managed to trigger some subconscious alarm in an overeager behaviorist working for jetBlue, who tipped off the TSA agents that we were prime candidates for thorough pat downs and carry-on luggage inspections. The Lone Ranger blamed me, for refusing to acknowledge this imbecile's vacuous greetings as we approached the X-ray machines (I hate talking to strangers, especially cheerful ones). I, in self defense, blamed the unchecked toxins whooshing around his, the behaviorist's, moronic brain. Whatever the actual reason, we endured 30 minutes of probing and prodding before being cleared for take-off. Afterwards, I was in desperate need of alcohol and nicotine, but was deprived of both thanks to LaGuardia's lamentably inadequate forethought and design. Instead, I consoled myself with spontaneous consumption of culinary eye candy at the diminutive yet formidable news stand. That, and my trusty iPod, were the only things saving me from a manslaughter charge.
Risotto ai funghi e nocciole - adapted from La Cucina Italiana
  • ½ cup hazelnuts
  • 4 oz dried porcini mushrooms
  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
    plus more for serving
  • 2 small shallots
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 2½ cups Vialone Nano rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 4-5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbsp hazelnut oil
  • 2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Spread nuts on a baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and lightly golden, 10-12 minutes; transfer to wire rack and cool completely. Roughly chop in a food processor.
Reconstitute mushrooms by soaking in very hot water for 15 minutes, or until tender. Strain through a sieve, reserving liquid. Chop roughly and toss with parsley and a generous pinch of salt & pepper; set aside.
In a heavy, large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots, half of the nuts and bay leaf. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes, then add rice and cook, stirring constantly, until rice is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes more; reduce heat to medium-low.
Add wine and cook until it is mostly absorbed, then add 1 cup reserved mushroom liquid and cook, stirring, until liquid is mostly absorbed, 5-7 minutes. Add ½ cup more of liquid and cook, stirring, until mostly absorbed. In ½ cupfuls, add remaining mushroom liquid, stirring until each addition is mostly absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender yet still slightly firm to the bite (you'll move over to the vegetable broth once all the reserved mushroom liquid is used. You may have broth left over.).
Stir in half of the reserved mushrooms, then add 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil and the cheese; stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
In a small bowl, toss together remaining mushrooms and hazelnuts. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon hazelnut oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Serve risotto on a large platter topped with extra mushroom & nut mixture.
This blog post is labeled "comfort food" for good reason. My risotto consoled. Nutty, earthy, salty and savory, each forkful was a respite. The preparation alone was enough to wash away the bad taste of that last airport experience. Save for an obligatory visit to family on the west coast later this month, I swear on all that is held holy, with the end of 2010 I may never fly another mile. But I WILL make this dish again and again.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food