Mushroom Risotto

It’s been a little cool for Florida over the past few days. A few nights have gone down into the 40’s and 50’s here by the gulf. While it hurts my heart to say that I now consider this “cold”, it did make for a perfect excuse to making some more warm, homey dishes. We’ve had some Arborio rice knocking around in the cabinet for a minute now, and we had a half of a container of white button mushrooms in the fridge… Risotto night!

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Worth Every Second

 

Many people, including myself until recently, are intimidated by risotto. It requires a special rice. You need to watch it constantly. You need to add just the right amount of liquid at just the right time. It’s temperamental and can easily come out still crunchy or as a bowl of cream of wheat. You get the picture.

The truth is, if you have your mise en place and you keep your pairing / approach simplistic, this dish is extremely easy to prepare. Yes, this dish does require your attention. No, this is not a dish you can set-and-forget while you go about peeling, trimming and assembling an entire tray of micro-veg. Additionally, this is not a dish you should attempt to cook while your team is playing its top rival of the last five decades for that final playoff berth in the other room, or, while you are trying to catch up on the last week’s episode of “American Horror Story”. If you take your time to properly prepare your ingredients, plan or sequence all of the steps for your meal ahead of time, and put a little love into it, risotto can be an impressive recipe to add to your repertoire. Just make sure you have a playlist that you can leave alone for 45 minutes!

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Mushroom Risotto

(Serves 4)

  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced (I used button mushrooms, but any variety will work)
  • 1/2 white onion, fine chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, fine minced
  • 1 1/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 32oz beef stock (homemade is preferable)
  • 3/4 cup of dry red wine (anything you would like a glass of while you’re cooking)
  • 3 tbsp EVOO
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2+ tbsp grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 3-5 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, fine chopped

Before your do anything else, get your stock into a sauce pan and get in on the stove. You need this to be steaming hot before you start your onions. As you go through the cooking process, if you add cool or cold stock, water or wine to your pan, you will shock the rice, and you will absolutely interrupt the cooking process which can lead to problems.

Once the stock is on, prep your mushrooms, onions and garlic, then portion out the rice and wine. Now, heat 1 tbsp of EVOO in a large pan over med-high heat. Add your mushrooms and pinch of salt and saute until starting to brown. Remember, with mushrooms, if the pan is not hot enough or if you crowd the pan, you will wind up with steamed mushrooms… That said, if you need to cook the mushrooms one cup at a time, do so. Once you get a color you are happy with, remove the mushrooms to plate with a paper towel and set them aside.

You can either use a new pan, or clean and re-use the one you had the mushrooms in. Either way, this pan needs to be the largest you have. You are doing to want at least a 2″ – 3″ rim. Don’t forget, the 1 1/4 cups of rice will expand quite a bit, and you want the layer of rice to be as thin as possible in your pan throughout the whole cooking process. Bring your pan to medium heat and add the remaining 2 tbsp of EVOO. Add your onions and cook for 3 minutes, or until starting to turn translucent. Then, add your garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. You do NOT want the onions or garlic to take on any color, so watch them closely. About five minutes after you’ve started the onion, add the rice to the pan, stirring constantly for 1 minute. You need to stir the rice constantly because you do not want the rice to take on any color, and you also need to make sure that each grain of rice get coated in your EVOO and the oils from the onion and garlic. Getting them coated with fat will slow the release of their starch and will help ensure that you don’t end up with mush. After the rice has been on for 1 minute, add the wine and the first ladle of stock. Your stock should always be added at either 1/2 of 3/4 cup increments. This is not an exact science, so don’t stress about it. As long as you keep the rice wet but not drowning, you’ll be fine. Think of it this way: The rice needs to absorb liquid to expand and become tender (cook). You want to add just enough liquid so that the grains can ‘drink’, thereby absorbing the flavors you are adding to the pan. If you add too much liquid at once, the rice will not be able to absorb the flavor quickly enough and your liquid will start to simmer or boil. Now you are cooking the rice without the benefit of it absorbing flavor…. That’s the reason you want to take your time with risotto. You need to impart the flavor of the onion, garlic, leek, shallot, wine, stock, etc… into the rice. In some regions of Italy, risotto takes the place of pasta dishes. Think about the time and effort you put into your traditional red sauces… you want to put the same time and effort into this process. As the liquid is absorbed, add another ladle of stock to the pan. This process continues for up 30 minutes. As this is ongoing, it is crucial that your stir almost constantly. As you stir, you are accomplishing a few things. 1) you are making sure that all of the grains are getting the same amount of exposure to the stick as you add it. 2) you are creating friction between the grins which helps release the starches. The starch is what makes the risotto we all know and love so rich and creamy. Arborio rice has a higher starch content than other grains, which is why Arborio, in my opinion, is really the only rice to be used in a risotto (sorry, Baldo). Now, again, don’t stress out about the stirring. You have time to check get dishes organized, check on the other components of your meal, take photos for your blog, etc… as long as you are not leaving the rice sit for minutes at a time, you will be okay.

After the rice has been on for approximately 15 minutes, add the mushrooms to the pan. Once these are stirred into the risotto, grab a spoon and check a few grains of rice for flavor and doneness. It will still have crunch to it, but it will give you a good benchmark as to how the dish has progressed over the last 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning as needed and continue with the stock-and-stir. After about 25 minutes of total cook time, it’s time for the spoon test. Take a clean spoon and, without pushing down on it, drag it across the top of your risotto. Check the bottom of the spoon. If you have a nice, creamy coating on the bottom of the spoon, you’ve done good work.

Clean spoon for the test

Clean spoon for the test

After the test

After the test

Continue to taste your risotto, checking for doneness, until you’ve reached your preferred level of al denteFor The Love Of All That Is Holy, Do Not Cook Until Soft And Mushy. You’ve invested too much love and effort into this to eat it any other way than how it was meant to be eaten… Once done, remove from the heat and add 2 tbsp of pecorino romano, stirring to incorporate.

Serve hot (within a few  minutes of removing it from the heat), spooning the desired amount onto plates and garnish with parsley and another pinch of cheese.

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I paired this risotto with some simple roasted carrots, tossed with EVOO, salt and pepper, a few whole garlic cloves and a few sprigs of thyme. Left in the oven at 350 F for 25-30 minutes. (prepped these prior to starting the risotto).

One of the beautiful things about risotto is that the only limit to it is your imagination. This being Fall, mushrooms were an easy choice. Also, as mushrooms are one of the more hearty vegetables, they stands up well to the robust flavor of the beef stock. I’ve always enjoyed the dark risottos to the lighter ones anyway…

As far as nutrition goes,the Arborio rice is not going to hurt you. With no fat to speak of, and as a good source of protein and dietary fiber, it’s not a bad choice for a side or a main. You will need to be careful about what you add to it. EVOO should be used sparingly. Most recipes you will see call for copious amounts of butter to be used. Obviously, I cut that out. Constantly stirring the rice, as well as adding the cheese at the end will give you the creaminess you are looking for. The vegetables and stocks you use in your risotto will make not only a big difference in your flavor, but in nutrition. Try risotto with vegetable stock and one of your favorite vegetables and see what you think! Be careful though, as fresher vegetables like peppers or peas should not be added until the last few minutes of cooking in order prevent them from breaking down.

I hope you make some room in your schedule one night soon and devote some time to making this. Forget that 5-minute rice in a box for a night, and roll your sleeves up. Taking the time to make this dish is relaxing as well as rewarding. Trust me, you’ll taste the love in it when you do it right.

ENJOY!

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Apple and Onion

On Sunday night, my wife and I finally watched “Chef” with Jon Favreau. I won’t spoil the movie for you (it’s a fantastic movie and you should check it out, especially if you love cooking / food!), but in it, quite a bit of time is spent showing them producing dozens of Cuban sandwiches. This of course got me on a pork kick. While my new diet eliminated red meat, white meat is fair game. Of the white meats, pork is by far my favorite. A lean pork tenderloin is not a bad option at all when it comes to keeping meat protein in your diet, as long as you keep health in mind as you prepare it. With that, after daydreaming through my work day yesterday, I got to the market, grabbed two pork loins, then rushed to the kitchen.

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I love honey mustard with pork, but I’m trying to, wherever possible, avoid the over-processing of the commercially produced brands. With that, I wanted to see what I could come up with. I did end up using some of the organic dijon mustard I had in the fridge because, well, I had it, dammit.

Mustard Glaze
1 tbsp crushed mustard seed
1 tbsp ground yellow mustard
1 tbsp organic dijon mustard
1/3 cup organic apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup organic honey
Single pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl. Whisk until fully combined. Taste and add honey or ground mustard to taste. Put in the refrigerator to set up until ready to use.
Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Onions
(Makes up to 6 servings)
2 pork tenderloins, cleaned, washed and dried
2 large Fuji apples, cored and cut into eighths
2 large white onions, peeled, ends removed, then cut into eighths
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 bundle thyme sprigs
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 cup organic apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1+ tbsp flour
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
salt and pepper
Assorted greens for a side salad
First, prep your apples and onions. Place in a bowl and have ready to go off to the side.
Set your oven to 375 F.
Next, remove the tenderloins from their package and remove any unwanted fat. Be sure to remove any silverskin. This silverskin (also known as elastin) is a tough connective tissue that will not break down through the cooking process. Not only will it impact the cooking process (can cause the the loin to curl as the tendon tightens due to heat), but is also unpleasant to chew in the final product. Most butchers will get this removed, but some portions may be left on where the silverskin runs up under the “cap” (at large end of the tenderloin) so as not detach the cap. This silverskin can be removed with your paring knife. Once you are able to grip the end of this tissue, you will be able to pull it from the loin, using the knife blade to separate it from the meat as you pull.
Silverskin removed from the first loin, still intact on the second.

Silverskin removed from the first loin, still intact on the second.

Once the silverskin is removed, wash and dry the loins. Once dried (drying is a must if you want to achieve a good, juice-retaining sear and a beautiful brown color), salt and pepper the loin to taste. Heat 1 tbsp EVOO to med-high heat in a large, oven-safe pan with a good size rim (for retaining liquid later). Add the tenderloin to heated oil and sear on all sides, allowing approximately 3 minutes per side. YOU ARE NOT COOKING THE MEAT THROUGH; all you want to do is lock in the flavor. Once you get the loin seared on all sides, remove from the heat and let them rest on a plate.

Using the same pan (keep that fond!), reduce the heat to medium and add another tbsp of EVOO to the pan. Add apples and onions to pan and season with double pinch of salt and your 1 tbsp cumin. Stir frequently to prevent burning the smaller pieces of onion. Eight minutes after starting the apple and onions (onions just starting to become translucent and apples starting to soften and brown), add the garlic, apple cider vinegar, vegetable stock, bay leaves, leaves from three sprigs of thyme, and three whole sprigs of thyme to the pan. Stir to combine, scraping the bottom of the pan to degalze. Turn heat to high and bring to boil. This only needs to boil for 2-3 minutes.

Fond

Fond

boil

 

While waiting for the liquids to come to a boil, take your mustard glaze out of the fridge and glaze the pork (just drizzle on the top and spread with your spoon), reserving some for a dressing for your greens later. Return the tenderloins to the pan, setting them on top apple and onion mixture. Remove the pan from the heat and place in the oven. Cook time will vary anywhere from 15-25 minutes. This is dependent on the size of the loin, how much cooking takes place as you are searing the meat, and the temperature of your oven. With your meat thermometer (if you don’t have one but are serious about making good food at home, you should invest in one), check the largest diameter portion of each tenderloin. The established “safe zone” for pork is 145 F and above. Do not go too far above 145-155 F as you will begin drying out the meat above that point. You are going to remove the pan from the oven when the pork’s internal temperature reaches 140 F. The internal temperature will continue to rise, even after you remove the meat from the heat source. I pulled mine at 142 F and it rose to 153 F in 5 minutes of resting.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Remove the pork to a serving platter and allow to rest for ten minutes. Spoon the vegetables around the pork. While the pork rests, take the liquid remaining in the pan and ladle it into a saucepan. Set the saucepan on high heat and bring to a boil. As the liquid begins to boil, add your foul to the liquid and whisk as the mixture reduces. Once your flour is completely combined and liquid has reduced by 1/3, you should have a sauce that is viscous enough to coat the back of a spoon. Once ready, place this to a gravy bowl, and you’re ready to eat! Serve this with a side salad of leafy greens, topped with the reserved mustard glaze or a light poppy seed dressing to bring the whole dish together.

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plated

Nutrition:
The pork, if trimmed properly and not cooked in excessive fat, is a great protein source. The apples are a good source of Vitamins A and C, and the onions are also good for Vitamin C as well as dietary fiber. The homemade honey mustard is a terrific option due to the surprisingly high amount of omega-3 fats (heart healthy) in the mustard seeds. The side salad of mixed leafy greens speaks for itself. The more dark, leafy greens you can get in your diet, the better off you are.
I hope that you enjoy this recipe as much as my wife and I did! If you decide to try it, please let me know your thoughts; I’d love to hear your opinions!
ENJOY!