Thursday, October 15, 2009

Risotto Nazi

About a year ago I came across one of the most infamous posts on the food website

Joe H. posted the "Absolute Best Risotto You Will Ever Eat" -- a toasted pistachio and gorgonzola dolce risotto recipe that had won him $10,000 and a trip to Italy. While some people commented that the risotto was too heavy, I have never had any issue eating extremely rich food and was intrigued to try the recipe for myself.

The opportunity came on a visit to Cambridge where my friend and I visited the famed Formaggio Kitchen, an amazing grocery store that Julia Child used to frequent. I figured they would be the perfect source for the ingredients Joe H. listed in his prized recipe. Joe H. says this recipe will serve 8-12 people, and although there were only 3 of us eating, Joe H. did not want people to experiment the first time we made this recipe. I've tried another Joe H recipe, have read many of his posts, and trust him. So we ended up with a lot of risotto.

Among the ingredients I got from Formaggio Kitchen:

From the label:
"Vialone Nano is the preferred rice in the kitchens of Venice and the Veneto region of Northern Ialy. This grain is shorter and rounder than all other types of Superfino rice. Riso Vialone Nano absorbs more liquid and plumps up beautifully when cooked.

"Principato de Lucedio is one of Italys finest rice growing estates. Located in the heart of the Piemonte region, the 800-year-old farm is home to Contessa Rosetta Clara Cavalli d'Olivola. The Contessa's father bought the historic estate in 1937, with its 12th century Cisternic abbey.

"The rice of Lucedio is grown in the flood plains surrounding the estate and is harvested once a year in September. After a few months of drying and storage, the grains are husked only when orders are received to ensure its freshness. The Contessa is proud to bring to your table an Italian rice with no equal."

Joe H. called for grated Parmigiano Reggiano from the "best and most moist brick you can find." There were several choices for Parmigiano Reggiano from Formaggio Kitchen. I thought this would be good enough. Joe H. spends about $13/pound for his Parmigiano Reggiano, so I didn't feel compelled to splurge for the $25/pound Parmigiano Reggiano they had.

Joe H. was adamant about using gorgonzola dolce. No other gorgonzola would do. This was such a beautiful cheese that I almost didn't want to go through with putting it in the risotto lest I ruin it. This cow-milk cheese came from the Piedmont region of Italy and is aged for 3 months. The texture was softer than other gorgonzola's I've had, the aroma little funkier, and the flavor sweeter and milder.

Formaggio Kitchen gave us three choices for butter: Cabot, Plugra, and this one. I think my friend and I were bewitched by the French writing, the circular shape, and the paper wrapping. It was pale yellow and very mild in flavor. Without a doubt, I would have been much happier using the Cabot or Plugra and I'll know next time that this recipe is not the proper venue for trying out an unfamiliar butter.

We also got a bottle of wine from Formaggio Kitchen which was recommended to us by a staff member. I remember it being a bit oak-y, with notes of ripe apple. It was nice to drink, but I wish that it had had more acidity to balance all the rich ingredients in this recipe. I've always had trouble picking out wine because it can be so personal. There are way too many varieties and brands, and you can't really tell if a wine is going to be acidic enough until you've bought the bottle, opened it, and tasted it. In the end, we sprinkled in lemon juice even though Joe H.'s recipe didn't call for it. (I'm sorry for modifying the recipe, Joe. But I really felt like my risotto needed it.)

Joe H. notes that we need a 1/2 cup of toasted pistachios that we shell ourselves. We picked out exactly 1/2 a cup of unshelled, unsalted pistachios from Formaggio Kitchen that were quite tasty. Unfortunately, I didn't take into account how many pistachios I would eat as I shelled them and not all of them made it to the final product.

Joe H. called for real chicken stock. Being unfamiliar with this area of the country, I didn't know where to go for good chicken to make the stock. We ended up stopping by a "regular" grocery store and picking up chicken drumsticks to make the chicken stock. I simmered the stock for over 24 hours, and there was hardly any flavor in the stock at all. I was so ashamed -- I pride myself on making great stock. I should have known better -- I remembered afterwards that my mother had told me once that drumsticks don't make for good broth. I think this ultimately really hurt the outcome of this dish. The next time I make this, I will be sure to be more careful about the source and types of chicken scraps I use.

It's a great recipe, I was overall pleased with the results, and I learned some things to be mindful of for next time: I will use Cabot or Plugra butter, use a wine with higher acidity, make sure my chicken stock is perfect, and make sure I buy enough pistachios to munch on. Delicious!

Joe H. mentions that this dish doesn't re-heat up very well. While I found this to be true, I enjoyed the risotto reheated anyway. It was also delicious cold. I frequently stopped by the refrigerator to carve out pieces to snack on. For some reason, I also felt like this would be comforting to eat cold as a hangover cure, but I was not going to get a hangover on purpose just to test this.

Thank you, Joe H, for being so generous with us and sharing your recipe.

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