Risotto is a tricky dish by all accounts, and it's been the downfall of many a would-be reality cooking show champion, from amateur cooks on Masterchef to professionals on the well-known Bravo series, Top Chef. In fact, risotto dishes have sent many chefs packing their knives and leaving the show. Cook it for too long, and it's a gloopy mess. Fail to let it cook long enough, and it's too starchy, won't spread out on the plate, and is even crunchy and underdone. The timing has to be just right.
Today I bring you my pumpkin risotto with oven-roasted Brussels sprouts and toasted pine nuts, with an afterward.
Pumpkin risotto with oven-roasted Brussels sprouts and toasted pine nuts
2-3 cups Brussels sprouts
1 cup Arborio rice
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 small yellow onion
¼ c white wine (optional)
4 cups chicken stock (approximate)
1 can pumpkin puree
1 bag pine nuts
While your Brussels sprouts are roasting, peel and mince the garlic, and peel and chop the onion. Measurements in the recipe are approximate, because I generally put a splash of olive oil in the pan "until it looks about right" which is the method I follow with most of my cooking. Using a big deep-dished sauté pan, put your garlic into the hot oil until it sizzles, and add the onion before your garlic is fully brown—less than a minute. Sautee the onion until translucent, around two minutes, and add the rice.
Stir rice with a spoon until all kernels are coated with oil and lightly toasted. This may take another minute or two. Make sure to stir constantly, so that nothing sticks to the pan. The important thing is to cover all the rice kernels with an oily sheen, and bring them to the point where they've gone from white to somewhat golden.
At that point, add ¼ cup wine if desired, but you can omit it without an impact on flavor. It's up to your personal taste or teetotaler status. Let the wine simmer until there's barely any liquid in the pan and the alcohol has cooked off, then add between a half-cup to a cup of chicken stock—enough to cover the rice and have it "swimming." Here comes the part that takes patience, which is why I typically make risotto with a cooking show playing on my tablet beside me: stir the rice gently but constantly as it comes up to a simmer. This is not a dish that you can leave to cook by itself.
When the chicken stock reduces and the mixture has thickened, add more liquid until the rice is loose and partially submerged again. At some point while cooking the risotto, you may want to check the oven and see where the Brussels sprouts are, removing as necessary. Add chicken stock, simmer and reduce, and add more stock as needed, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, until the rice is cooked. It's important to taste and make sure; you don't want to serve crunchy risotto.
Pull the Brussels sprouts from the oven and let the rack stand aside while finishing the dish. Add the pumpkin puree to the risotto, mixing it in until the two are folded together and fully blended. Remove the risotto from the heat.
Set a small pan on the stove and heat it. Add the pine nuts to the small pan, stirring constantly until the pine nuts begin to release their oil and brown.
Portion out the risotto, and garnish with Brussels sprouts and pine nuts on top. Serves four generous portions.
Risotto is such a notoriously tricky dish, it brings a sense of accomplishment when it's mastered. I chose risotto as a recipe to bring to the readers because in that sense, it parallels the journey that Alex takes in Appetite: risotto takes time, patience, and waiting beyond where you think it might be ready. Before you know it, however, you've got a wonderfully subtle, layered dish on your hands and when you master the basic recipe, there are infinite variations to rediscover your passion time and again.
The door creaked open and shut further up the alley. Alex turned, expecting to see Florian joining him for a smoke. Nik stepped out into the alleyway, unfastening his chef's jacket all down the front, baring a red t-shirt with a scrawl of words over the upper chest. He peeled up the bottom of his red shirt, fanning it out to circulate cool air through the front.
Alex lifted a hand, but found his voice was stoppered in his throat. He reached for his cigarette instead, turning to one side to ogle Nik less obviously, unable to resist the slender nape revealed by the dark hair pulled into its severe tail, the skinny chest spanned into a stretch as Nik lifted both of his strong, slender wrists into the air, pushing them as far as they would go. His face went soft-focused, his defenses dropping in that moment while he shifted positions, extending his arms in front of him and lacing his fingers, stretching those as well. Nik bounced on his tiptoes, making soft grunts of exertion that Alex could hear even from the back of the alley.
Stretching one arm over the other, Nik swung in Alex's direction. His eyes widened to such an extent that Alex could see white even from his distance. "What are you doing?" he exclaimed.
Alex performed a quarter turn, glancing to one side of him, then the other as though expecting to find any others that Nik might be addressing. He waved his cigarette laden hand through the alley air. "Taking that break you told me to?"
Nik stormed up the alley, aiming a finger at Alex like a cocked gun. "You're smoking!" he uttered in tones of mingled anger and betrayal. "I can't believe you're smoking ... it ruins your palate, and it cheapens our restaurant." He didn't stop walking until he was toe to toe with Alex.
Alex flicked his cigarette ashes to one side and kept the butt gripped low. That was all he needed, to burn his chef with stray ashes during an argument over the fact that he was smoking. "Yah, I know you Americans think it's a filthy habit, but I am on my break, okay?"
Nik came right into Alex's personal space to aim that finger near his nose, his face shuttered down in cold, hard lines once more. "Don't 'you Americans' me, Alex, I have dual citizenship and I can speak German almost as well as you," he exclaimed. "I'm surprised at you; what do you expect to accomplish, killing your taste buds like this?"
The unexpected attack on his break, Alex's one moment outside of the kitchen that had been consuming his life, threw Alex into quiet confusion for a moment. "You can't tell me not to smoke." Alex kept his cigarette off to the side, but its smoke continued to waft up between them. Fuck it. He wasn't going to try and hide something for fear of Nik's displeasure. Alex brought his cigarette and set it between his lips.
Nik's nostrils flared. "I can tell you not to smoke on our property," he retorted, reaching up to snatch the cigarette from between Alex's lips, leaving them tingling. "You're a chef, Alex, and if you want to be a great one, you ought to think about what this does to your palate. Your sense of taste, your sense of smell." He held the cigarette pinched by the very end, smoke curling in the air between their faces.
Alex inhaled, on the verge of saying something a man should never say to his ranking chef, on the line or off it.
"Besides," Nik continued, bringing the cigarette to his lips and taking a thick drag, his plush mouth closing on the filter where Alex's lips had been clamped only seconds before. He inhaled, taking the smoke directly into his lungs before leaning forward until there was only radiant heat between them. "Would you want to kiss this?"
Before Alex could move or formulate a response, Nik exhaled a stream of smoke directly into his open mouth.
It set Alex to coughing. His eyes watered and he balled his fists up as Nik pitched his cigarette to the ground, grinding it out with the ball of his non-slip shoes, eyeing Alex from across the smoldering distance between them before turning about face. Nik stalked back up the alley without another word.
Alex struggled to formulate thought in a haze of smoke and liquefied brain matter. A part of his primitive brain was still tracking the sway of Nik's hips even as Alex grappled with the upsurge of emotion that he had to label as rage. He was trying to set Nik's well-tended hair on fire with the power of his mind. He couldn't even muster a 'how dare you' for Nik's presumption.
He definitely couldn't let himself think he more than wanted to kiss that mouth, ashtray taste or no. He wanted to ravish it with his own until there was more than just a kiss between them.
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Check out my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the novel, and the "Tour de Foodie" continues tomorrow at Joyfully Jay!