Sunday, May 18, 2014

Saffron Risotto with a Twist

Risotto seems to be a pretty well known dish but I was surprised to hear that some of my friends who are good cooks never made it, or one even expected risotto to be cooked from orzo pasta. After my trip to Italy when I was raving about food I had, a friend asked me for a good risotto recipe. So here it comes.

Risotto, because it is so simple, like many simple dishes has its secrets which make it special. Sometime the secret lies in the recipe and sometimes in the quality of the ingredients. I admit that since my host in Rome showed me each step of the process, also my risotto has improved a lot.

In this case, the most important secret is to have a good, preferably home made stock, which is added during the whole process. I make mine from scratch or use an organic free range chicken stock, which is a good substitute. Also, butter used to fry should be only melted, not fried and the onion or shallot and all other ingredients should be chopped finely or grated, so they are detectable in taste rather than in texture. Bigger pieces are added usually at the end for finishing. A real good quality Italian Parmesan also makes difference.

Most often I cook saffron risotto, since it has become my kids favorite. Saffron adds not only a beautiful color but also the aroma. Moreover, saffron risotto is often just a base and different ingredients are added to it, beside saffron.

During my recent trip to Italy I visited one of the famous restaurants in Florence: Caffè Giubbe Rosse. I had saffron risotto with zucchini, finished with scamorza affumicata (smoked cheese a bit similar to mozzarella), which was melted on top and gave an extra smokey taste to the delicate risotto. So today I share this recipe.

Saffron Risotto with Scamorza
(Serves four)

1 and 1/3 cup Arborio rice,
2 shallots, peeled off and finely chopped
3 tbsp butter,
1 glass of white wine,
a pinch of saffron powder or saffron threads,
4-5 cups good quality stock of your choice,
2 zucchinis, grated,
1/2 cup grated, Italian parmesan,
4 tbsp table cream,
4-6 thin slices Scamorza cheese (available for instance in Giant's gourmet cheese section),
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Place stock on a pot and heat it until hot. If you use saffron threads, rather than saffron powder, let them soak in the stock. Keep the stock hot during the cooking of risotto.
2. In a large heavy duty pan melt butter until liquid but do not let it fry. Add chopped shallots and them fry over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until shallots becomes transparent. Add Arborio rice and fry for about one minute, until grains are coated.

3. Add wine to rice and cook stirring constantly until wine almost completely evaporates.
4. Pour in about a half a cup of stock and cook stirring until liquid is absorbed. Repeat until you use about 2/3 of the stock. Then add grated zucchinis and continue cooking and adding stock until rice is al dente and zucchinis still green.
5. Turn off the heat. Season risotto with salt (not much as stock is usually salted) and pepper. Add Parmesan, cream if you use, stir well, cover and let infuse for about 3 minutes.

6. Transfer hot risotto into serving plates, cover with thin slices of scamorza and serve.