Monthly Archives: January 2015

Porcini-Truffle Risotto

Porcini-Truffle RisottoPorcini-Truffle Risotto

If you don’t like mushrooms and think that truffles smell like feet, you’ll probably want to click away from this post right now.  This dish of Porcini-Truffle Risotto is not for you.  Instead, it is for those who love the earthy, funky aromas and flavors of the funghi that live in the rich soil only to be revealed at that perfect moment of creation.  I’m also posting this now, as another round of wintry weather is threatening to bring a chart-topping snowstorm our way, and this risotto is one of the most comforting ways I can think of to ride out the blizzard that is to come.

Dried porcinisDried porcinis

Fresh porcini mushrooms are even more rare to locate, at least I haven’t seen them for sale very often.  I would see them during the Fall, briefly, very briefly, when I lived in Bologna in the main food market.  A few places also served them with the local pasta during the season.  Mostly, even in Italy, I used them in dried form, like I do here.  The fresh ones had a much milder flavor and were super fragile to handle.  Porcinis are one of the few food items that I think are even better in dried form than in fresh.

IngredientsIngredients

After living in Italy, I found truffle oil, which some chefs like and some think is a culinary scourge.  While I admit that this condiment does get over-used and can completely kill a dish, I also think that it does have its time and place, sometimes.  I’ve waited for the sales that O & Co. has to pick up truffle oil as well as jarred truffles, which I then make into a compound butter.  The rice is Vialone Nano, one of several kinds that can be used for making risotto.  That, I bought at the Mercato Notturno that the Greenmarket had a few months back.  With these few ingredients, plus some homemade vegetable stock that I had in the freezer, I was set to go.

Porcini-Truffle Risotto

Prep Time: about 45 minutes to 1 hour (includes soaking time)

Serving Size: 4 main course or 6 primi piatti

Ingredients:

1 packet Dried Porcini Mushrooms (about 20 grams)

1 tsp. Truffle Butter

1 tsp. Truffle Oil

1 medium Shallot, minced

1 tsp. Kosher Salt

1 c. Risotto Rice

2 1/2 c. Vegetable Stock

1/4 tsp. Black Pepper, freshly ground

1 tsp. Truffle Butter

1/4 c. Grana Padano, freshly grated

Truffle Oil for garnish

1 tsp. Chives, chopped

Assembly:

Re-hydrating porcinisRe-hydrating porcinis

Place dried porcini mushrooms in a shallow bowl.  Pour just enough boiling water over the mushrooms to cover them.  Set aside and let the mushrooms re-hydrate while preparing the rest of the ingredients.  Pour the vegetable stock into a small saucepan and let it come to a low boil.

Shallots cookingShallots cooking

In medium saucepan, melt the butter along with the truffle oil.  Add the minced shallots and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the shallots are soft and almost translucent.  Season with a pinch of salt.

Adding risotto riceAdding rice

Stir in the rice.  Make sure that each grain is thoroughly coated in the fat from the butter and oil.  Let it cook for about a minute, but do not let it get browned.

Beginning to add stockAdding stock

Pour a ladleful of stock over the rice and stir to make sure that the liquid is incorporated throughout the risotto.  Let the risotto cook over low heat, absorbing the stock.  Once it looks like all the liquid is gone, add another ladleful of stock, taking care not to let the risotto lose so much liquid that it starts to stick to the pan.

Chopped rehydrated porcinisChopped re-hydrated porcinis

While the risotto is cooking, remove the porcini mushrooms from their soaking liquid.  Do not discard the liquid.  Chop the porcinis until they are about the same size as the shallots.  These to do not have to be even pieces, just not really giant-sized ones.

Incorporating porcinisAdding porcinis

When the rice has just about doubled in size, and when, in tasting it, there’s a bit of give but still a chalky element to the risotto, add the porcini mushrooms along with any accumulated liquid from them.  Do not add the soaking liquid.  Stir to incorporate.  Add the black pepper and 1/4 tsp. salt at this point as well.  Continue stirring the risotto and adding more stock until the risotto is on the verge of al dente.

Adding truffle butter and grana padanoAdding truffle butter and cheese

Just as the pasta gets to the al dente state, turn off the heat.  The risotto will continue to cook a bit more even after the heat its off.  Add the remaining butter plus the Grana Padano and stir them into the risotto.  Taste for seasoning.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Plated Porcini-Truffle RisottoPorcini-Truffle Risotto

Immediately transfer the risotto to warmed plates.  If desired, drizzle each portion with an extra bit of truffle oil.  Sprinkle the chopped chives on top of the risotto.  Serve right away.

Buon appetito!

International Day of Italian Cuisines (IDIC) 2015

Eggplants on the counterEggplant – a key component of this year’s dish

Today, January 17th, marks the 9th International Day of Italian Cuisines.  This year, Eggplant Parmesan (parmigiana di melanzane) is the highlighted national dish.  As in past years, this is a celebration of Italian heritage and food culture as well as a way of emphasizing that what makes the cuisine of this country held in such high esteem is the attention to detail and quality of ingredients.  For this year’s feature, this is no less true than in past years.  The freshest, meaty eggplant combined with sweet-tart tomato sauce, peppery basil, and creamy mozzarella cheese come together on one plate in this recipe.

Eggplant ParmEggplant Parmesan – from a recipe from Food & Wine

I didn’t really grow up loving eggplant.  My mother actually tried to sneak it into quite a few meals that she fed to our clan, which was quite unsuccessfully received.  I think a few of my siblings still have nightmares about the time she tried to incorporate it into tacos.  Thankfully, I wasn’t around for that one.  Somewhere along the line, however, I tried this marriage of fried vegetables and gooey cheese with rich tomato sauce and fell in love with it.

Tray of Eggplant ParmesanEggplant Parmesan – from Mamma Agata Cooking School

When I lived in Italy, I discovered that this is considered a secondo, or second course, served after the pasta course.  I’m not sure why I would have thought it was a regular first course, but maybe that’s just because I grew up with just eating one course for Italian-style meals.  When I assisted Gennaro of Mamma Agata’s Cooking School a couple of years ago, he gave me several tips on how he prepares his version of parmigiana di melanzane, which I shared in my post about their cooking class.

Eggplant ParmesanServing of Eggplant Parmesan

As with any classic recipe, there are many regional variations.  I have seen recipes that call for dredging the slices in flour and then egg and then breadcrumbs and then fry them.  Some folks just dip them in flour and fry them.  There’s been recipes that call for roasting the eggplant instead of frying it.  Then, there’s the cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, mozzarella, mozzarella di bufala or any combination thereof.  Even on the IDIC website, the post about “The Authentic Parmigiana: A Glorious Italian Dish” has several adaptations.

Eggplant Parm sandwichFor the leftovers – an Eggplant Parm Sandwich

The organizers have included a recipe on their website, which recognizes some of these variations but still keeps to a pretty straightforward interpretation of its preparation.  Whatever way you decide to make it, the use of the best and freshest ingredients possible is still the most important way to prepare this dish.  That is in keeping with the letter and the spirit of what the International Day of Italian Cuisines represents.

Buon appetito!

IDIC 2012

IDIC 2014

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti 1Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

At a friend’s annual New Year’s Day party this year, a fellow guest asked me about why it’s so difficult to replicate restaurant dishes at home.  There’s several reasons why this might be true, I replied.  Having your own prep team to make stocks and sauces and pulling together mise en place is one aspect.  Another is the access to top-notch ingredients.  Still another is that restaurant recipes are scaled for service, and when they are modified for home cooking, sometimes they just don’t work.  Case in point, are these Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti that I brought to that same party.

Original RecipeOriginal biscotti recipe

I was given this recipe when I was a culinary student at the International Culinary Center, working at L’Ecole.  The then-Pastry Chef rattled it off to me one night just before the start of our (the students’) part of service.  What I’d liked about these biscotti when I’d snacked on them one night was that they weren’t too sweet.  They also had a nice crunch to the outside and a firm texture on the inside, without that teeth-shattering consistency of some Italian-style confections.  In looking at the proportions on this card, it shows that making the recipe using these ratios would yield a lot of cookies.

Re-scaled recipeRe-scaled recipe

There’s also the issue of measurements.  The original recipe has a mixture of pounds, grams, cups, teaspoons, a real mish-mash of amounts.  Truthfully, this isn’t all that uncommon in restaurant chef recipes either, which is another reason that trying to scale them to work in a home kitchen doesn’t always produce the same results.  Still, I was hoping that my math skills and baking knowledge would enable me to wing it through this recipe, as it was my contribution to the party, along with a bottle of Ronnybrook Farm‘s fabulous, seasonal eggnog.

Wet ingredients mixed togetherWet ingredients mixed together

So, I divided the amounts by eight, basing that on the quantity of eggs and flour, as that seemed easy enough to do.  It got a little tricky when I tried to scale down the 1.5 pounds of butter, but I think I got it right.  As the only actual directions on the card said to use the creaming method, I mixed the softened butter and sugar together and then added the eggs.

Dry ingredients mixed togetherDry ingredients mixed together

Then, I mixed together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  I gradually added the flour mixture to the egg mixture.  The combination ended up being much drier than I’d expected it to be.  I’ve only ever made biscotti once, and that was a while ago, so I was still a bit skeptical that this was going to turn out all right.  I tossed in the chocolate chips (actually a chopped up chocolate bar) and the pistachios and formed the batter into two logs that were sort of biscotti-shaped.

Dough prepared for ovenDough ready for the oven

The only other instructions on the card were the baking temperatures and times.  I baked one of these loaves intact the entire time.  The other one, I cut into pieces after the first baking.  In the past, I’d remembered in making biscotti and mandelbrot that before the second time in the oven, the loaves had been sliced into cookies.

Baking two waysBaking biscotti two ways

Turns out that, in this case, I didn’t really need to do that step at all.  The dough was very soft when I’d cut into it.  Waiting until after all the baking cycles were done proved to make it easier to handle the loaves and to make more evenly-sized cookies.  I let the biscotti cool on the baking sheet on the stove top, letting the carry-over cooking dry them out just enough to give them that crunchy factor.  I made these the evening before the party, and they held up very well.

BIscotti out of the ovenBiscotti cooling

They were very well-received at the party, both in taste and texture.  The host agreed with me that they could have been just a hair sweeter and that maybe the cocoa powder that I used wasn’t exactly right.  I’d thought about going the Dutch-processed route, but stuck with a more general variety.  The fun thing about playing around with recipes is that there’s always the next time to try to make it better.

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Prep Time: about 1 hour

Portion Size: about 2 dozen biscotti

Ingredients:

3 ounces Unsalted Butter, softened

1 c. White Sugar

2 Large Eggs

2 c. AP Flour

1/2 c. Cocoa Powder

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1/4 tsp. Salt

1 c. Pistachios, shelled

1/2 c. Chocolate Chips (or chopped chocolate bar)

Assembly:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Whip butter and sugar together until smooth and light in color.  Add the eggs and beat into the sugar mixture until thoroughly incorporated.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  Stir to mix together.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and incorporate completely.  The dough will be quite dense.  Add in the chocolate and pistachios and fold them into the batter as best you can.

On a parchment-lined baking tray, form the batter into two biscotti-shaped logs.  Bake them for 15 minutes.  Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the biscotti for 12 minutes.  Rotate the baking tray and bake them for another 12 minutes.

Remove the baking tray from the oven.  Cut the biscotti logs into 1-inch (2.5 cm) slices and let them cool on the baking tray for 10-15 minutes.  Eat them within a couple of days, if they last that long.

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti 2Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Buon appetito!