This week’s Dish - Roasted squash and Pecorino Risotto (actually this is a late posting :)
Ok. So who here knows how to cook rice? Does any one have a preferred way to bring this tasty, starchy grain to its perfect form of edibility?
Rice: an ingredient that has showed my more forms of itself then I can begin to imagine. And I have cooked it into innumerable variations and consistencies with a plethora of spices and accompanying friends.
It is the one thing (OK, maybe one of three or four) that I CAN cook, and in all honesty, 99% of the time not screw up.
Now I cooked rice in I can’t remember the number of kitchens over my short’ish culinary career. But I learned to master my technique and was allowed to blossom my relationship with this delectable grain under three wonderful chefs that granted me their wisdom. So many thanks to Tony Miller and Yogi ( I believe Tony is still the head chef over at Bubba Gumps Shrimp at Pier 39, former head Chef at Thristy Bear Brewing Company, both in San Francisco) Tommy Castellani, my sous chef/ chef de cuisine at William Sonoma, SF, and Kamo Yakuzura at Java Sushi in Truckee, CA. Each of these great teachers added integral aspects to my relationship and understanding of this drop of rain coalesced from the heavens above. And to them I owe them unspeakable thanks and absolute credit to the knowledge that gave birth to this talent of mine.
Now, this particular recipe is a twist of the skill I received from all three of my chefs and their staff and and I melded their technical knowledge with the translated expansion of Tuscan cuisine’s demand for simplicity and supplication to the ingredients that I got from Chris Fernandez, the former Chef of Stars, SF and Poggio in Sausalito.
It is a dish I love to make, and my wife loves to eat. It has body and giggles, as Tommy demanded from me, yet it only emphasizes the purest aspects of the ingredients I hand pick from my local farmers market. That is except for the rice, which is different from the aborio that is a staple for a true Italian risotto. Instead I use a Japanese short grain rice, Haiga, a form of Koshihikari rice that has not been polished to the point that it does not lose the germ, and therefore has a naturally higher protein and vitamin content in the dish.
So what are the tricks to this dish?
Well the trick is sitting back and coming to an understanding about what you want the dish to say about the ingredients that you are about to use. And of course that this is something, like all the best things in life, that CANNOT be rushed. The best food, whether it comes from a restaurant, a home kitchen, or even a camp fire takes time. The process is just as important as the results that you will enjoy when everything is all said and done.
Risotto, much like paella, juk or even a child, is a creation that requires it to develop in its own time taking into consideration the amalgamation circumstances. It will never cook the same way twice, and if it did, what fun would that be?
So as for the dish, here it is in its most basic of forms. First question should be what are you going to put into it and then how many people are you trying to feed.
Since this is one of my versions, and one I just made recently, this is roasted squash, with sweet sweated onions, carrots, garlic, rosemary, vegetable stock, and finished with a bit of butter and then pecorino romano and chevre.
OF course just about everything I cook has olive oil (actually EVOO - extra virgin olive oil - I use a greek kalamata olive based oil) and then a bit of cracked pepper blend. Yet the salt content of this dish should be limited due to the high salt levels used in the production of the pecorino romano. This is something to always take into mind when you cook; every ingredient has an affect upon the totality of the creation and how it will eventually stimulate your palate.
Here it comes down to how many people you are about to feed, and how do you want to incorporate the squash into the dish. Since this is a risotto, I was taught it was all about the purity of the color of the rice and use the other ingredients to contrast with the creamy white. So this normally leads a cook down the road of not cooking the squash in the risotto, but to roast it before.
yellow sweet onion
1/2 squash (approx. 1 1/4 cups) roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs (hard leaf like thyme or rosemary)
vegetable stock (enough to have 2 cups of stock to every cup of rice)
So this is how a recipe of this style and magnitude works. A proportionate amount of onions are sweated down (which is usually done by adding salt and having them over low heat to draw out the flavor and water of the onion). This starts out as a slow process and done as such it, unless you have LOTS of experience, CANNOT be walked away from. SO this means you get to stand there constantly stirring and moving the about the pan till they become translucent. When the onions are working in the pan for about 2-3 minutes add your dices carrots (I usually dice therm down to about 1/4” pieces and they don’t have to be perfect.).
Once that is achieved, you add a dash more olive oil and then the rice. Cooking the rice in the oil for only 30 seconds to about a minute, just long enough to get it to bloom and be coated in the olive oil, you begin to add stock.
The stock you slowly work into the rice and and let the lowered heat allow the rice to absorb the stock. As more stock is integrated into the dish you add more by the spoon full. Make sure to keep the rice and stock mixture moving about the pan. Remember that risotto is unlike paella in the facts that risotto is based upon creating a balance between the liquid, the developed glutens of the starch that is bled out of the rice and the maintenance of the rice grain’s structure without scorching or creating a caramelization of the sugars , while in paella it is the opposite of sorts: absorbing all the liquids and developing a crust of sorts on the bottom of the paella pan that is meant to be the cue de grace of intensified flavor and goodies after the main dish is done to be scraped up and eaten with crusty breads.
So, since adding the stock to your rice, make sure to check the flavor of the stock in the pan over a period of about 20-25 minutes, which is about how long it takes to cook the rice to al dente. Once the rice is nearing completion add the squash to the dish and fold in with about a Tbsp of butter.
Once the butter and the squash have been folded in it is time to finish the dish with the pecorino and chevre. Shred the pecorino over the dish and fold it in and then I finish the dish with the chevre that I break up with my fingers. Final touch is a little cracked pepper and let the rice sit and settle for about 10 minutes or so, so that it may settle into itself.
Just remember that a great Italian risotto has body, so it should still move when you shake the pan. So a little excess moisture is OK. The rice will eventually absorb it. So have fun and enjoy. This is a family dish so make sure to share it.