Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A risotto

Two Sundays ago, I sold the last bundle of books in retail for (hopefully) the last time. It’s official. I am now an ex-bookseller. Yesterday, the last, windy day of July, was my birthday. And my best friend, also an ex-bookseller, though she sensibly escaped many years earlier, flew down from Sydney for a few days of restorative dog-walking, tea-drinking and, of course, celebrating. A long and slightly sozzled birthday lunch on Friday at Vin Cellar was in order. How lucky I am.

A Saturday night in required something home-made and wintry for a dinner eaten on our laps, huddled around the fire. It’s not often that I would suggest a recipe for risotto here. Everyone has his or her own preferred style of preparation; his or her own preference for the type of rice used. Personally, Carnarolli works for me, but I refuse to enter the potential minefield of snooty rice arguments – plain old Arborio works pretty damn well too. So here, despite any misgivings, is a delectable, sloppy and oh-so-rich risotto, tinted a delicate shade of faded rose-pink. Just when you think it’s going to be too sweet, too soothing, the pungent cheese wakes your palate and the chives add a layer of freshness to each bite.

Dare I admit that I often use stock cubes in risotto? In my defense, I can enthusiastically recommend Marigold Swiss Bullion Powder, championed by many great cookery writers. So there, I’ve said it, thumbing my nose at tradition and awaiting a barrage of scorn. Do you think any less of me as a cook? While I’m at it, you might as well use the best mascarpone you can find – Elgaar Farm's organic one is beyond belief.

One final thing: if you’re concerned about animal rennet in cheese, do not use a blue unless you can be absolutely convinced that it’s okay by reading all labels. A stinky goat’s cheese will be different, but no less good.

Wine-poached pear and blue cheese risotto – serves 4-6
Adapted from a recipe in the magnificent Enjoy by Nadine Abensur. Serve with a salad of sharp-flavoured, bitter leaves, dressed like this.

5 ripe, firm pears
150ml of drinkable red wine
150ml of drinkable muscat or port
2 points of star anise
1 litre of vegetable stock, plus a little more
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 red onions, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
400g of risotto rice (use what you like)
150-200g of blue cheese, or 200g of equally stinky goat’s feta
4 tablespoons of mascarpone
1 bunch of chives, snipped

Peel the pears, cut into eighths and cut away the cores. Place in a small saucepan with the wine, muscat and star anise and bring to a lively simmer. Cook at this pace for 10 minutes, then fish out and discard the star anise and set the pears in their cooking liquor aside.

Heat the stock or water in another saucepan over a very gentle heat and keep warm.

Melt the butter and oil together in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and fry until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and fry for 30 seconds before tipping in the rice, stirring constantly, until the grains are well coated in the fat. Lower the heat. Pour in the stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring often and only adding more when the last lot is absorbed. Pour in the pears and their cooking liquor and gently stir until the grains are perfectly cooked.

Crumble in the blue cheese and, if you think the risotto needs more liquid, up to one more ladle of hot stock. Clamp the lid on tightly, remove from the heat and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

Serve in bowls, sprinkle with a generous showering of chives and top each serving with a tablespoon of mascarpone. Grind over some pepper and pass the grinder around for others to add a little more.


kathryn said...

Congratulations on leaving your job Lucy - a big change for you, but good luck with the exciting projects ahead.

And, what a beautiful risott recipe. You really are opening my eyes up to new ways of using pears on savoury dishes!

Cheers, kathryn

Lucy said...

I think my obsession with pears in savoury dishes is becoming almost overwhelming! Thanks Kathryn. I must say, it does feel good to be 'free'!

Cindy said...

A belated happy birthday to you, Lucy!

shula said...

Oh. My. God.

That is amazing.

Rosa said...

That pear picture looks like an oil painting! Happy birthday and congratulations on your career change.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Oh man, I didn't realize the star anise at first. How fabulous. I often use reconstituted stock. Do I prefer homemade? Yes. Is this a restaurant? No. Happy Birthday!

Rose said...

Oh Lucy, your first picture is awesome. I would never thought of adding pears to risotto. Happy belated birthday and wishing you all the best in your career and your life

Christina said...

Happy birthday! It sounds like a perfect celebration.

And, THANK YOU for this recipe. When the fall pears begin to roll in, this is their first fate in my kitchen.

Susan said...

Well, you can toss me on the barbi, too. I often use cubed or paste stock. It saves your veggies for other recipes and adds just enough salt. Are those bosc pears, Lucy? Another sensual, shadowy shot.

Lucy said...

Thanks Cindy!

Shula, get yourself off to the Vic market and get cracking; I don't know how much longer this cold weather will hold out so you'll be able to justify all the richness...

Thanks Rosa - change is in the air 'round here. Was quite happy with those pears in the photo.

Amanda, I'm pleased that you do too - as you say, this little kitchen is NOT a restaurant!

Rose, I'm looking forward to the next few months. Won't know what to do with my Sundays...actually, yes I will!

Christina, you are very welcome - enjoy it when those nights begin to close in around you.

They are Susan, caught as the light was fading quickly. Am pleased to know that you too are a 'blasphemous' cook. Reckon we should start a little club!

Another Outspoken Female said...

Belated birthday greetings from another marigold fan :)

Johanna said...

Belated happy birthday - sounds lovely! Am pleased to see the recipe for the risotto - sounded some wonderful in the teaser in your last entry - will hope to make the recipe sometime!

Magic Cochin said...

Hi Lucy
I have tagged you for the seven random gardening/vegetable facts meme. Follow this link


kitchen hand said...

Your photography is poetry. The recipe's great too.

Stephanie said...

Yes... I too have been known to use stock cubes in a risotto and I'm holding my head up high as I say it! I'm loving this dish...

Lucy said...

Thanks AOF - it's pretty bloody good!

Johanna, thank you - enjoy the ristto. I'm such a tease... ;)

Hi Celia - noted. Will see what I can do, time permitting.

Aw shucks kitchenhand. But seriously, thank you.

Yay Stephanie, I suspected I wasn't alone. Honestly, get cracking soon - I can feel the weather warming up!

Sophie said...

Hi Lucy, well done on leaving your job. I know from practice that it is a big leap to take!

The risotto sounds like it would smell wonderful - I'll have to look out Nadine's book

Cynthia said...

Happy Belated Lucy! Sounds like you had a good time with your friend. The menu is certainly one to celebrate.

Lucy said...

Am pleased that I've taken the plunge Sophie, though it's been a long time coming. The book is divine - much better than anything else she's written (though I do love all of Nadine's books).

Thank you Cynthia! WE did have a lovely, much needed catch up.

Wendy said...

This sounds divine. A belated happy birthday to you and a congrats on quitting your job. :) Sounds like you've got a lot going on just now!

Lucy said...

I do Wendy! And I have had so many vistors this month so far (with more to come yet) that I am itching to get posting and get on with my plans! Glad you're back from you hols.