Hilary and Chelsea came by for another cooking session (see previous post) and their requested topic was Side Dishes 101. That covered a huge range of possibilities, so we narrowed it down to a vegetable and a starch. The girls suggested Brussels sprouts and rice, two ingredients that can be prepared in a variety of ways. We began with the sprouts, first Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Potatoes and Bacon and then Sprout Chips with a honey and Sriracha sauce. Next came a traditional stovetop Risotto with Mushrooms, Lemon and Basil followed by a Rice Pilaf with Nuts and Dried Fruits. The girls measured, chopped, stirred and tasted, and we filled the afternoon with good eats and laughing conversation. I organized, and they did all of the work cooking and cleaning up. Lucky me!
Evidently the leftovers were popular the following day as well:
"Thank you, thank you for such a fun cooking lesson yesterday! We could not stop talking about the dishes when we got home. I added some chicken to my rice pilaf and packed it up for lunch today...sure beats a cold turkey sandwich! I wonder if there will be any risotto left when I get home tonight ;)"Each dish took 45 minutes or longer in combined preparation and cooking time, an issue when you arrive home super-hungry after work and want something quick to eat, quick like right now. I wondered if risotto in the microwave would (1) speed up the process significantly and (2) produce an acceptable, authentic-tasting risotto. Barbara Kafka's 575-page Microwave Gourmet, a terrific guide to all things microwaveable, provided helpful guidance. This cookbook is so useful that I keep a copy in the kitchen ashore and have another copy onboard in the boat galley (thank you Jean for that second copy).
Kafka's risotto recipe recipe provides variations and directions for portions to serve 6, 2 or 1 as a first course. Single portions are handy when you want to test a new recipe, or to experiment swapping ingredients. I added lemon juice and zest, broccoli florets and parsley to the basic recipe-for-one, and was pleased with the result. The rice kernels finished perfectly, midway between too soft and too toothy, and the dish's overall flavor had a lovely citrusy tang. This was definitely a tasty rice dish worth repeating, but... not quite my usual, creamy risotto. Perhaps a larger 6-person batch, with more liquid and its longer 30-minute cooking time, would better approximate the classic version, but it wouldn't save much time for the cook.
Final thoughts: microwave risotto is a useful preparation for one or two, but I will continue to use the traditional method for company meals. This is still a work in progress. Now, about risotto in the pressure cooker... there's another quick-cook method to try.
Microwave Risotto with Lemon and Broccoli
based on Barbara Kafka's Microwave Gourmet
1/2 Tablespoon butter
1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup Arborio rice
2 green onions, chopped; divided into white and green portions
handful of broccoli florets, chopped; divided into flowers and stems
juice of 1/2 lemon (approx 1 tablespoon)
1 1/4 cups homemade or lo-salt chicken broth, at room temperature
salt and white pepper, to taste
2 Tbs shredded fresh Parmesan
2 Tbs loosely packed, minced, fresh flat-leaf parsley
zest of 1/2 lemon (optional)
- Heat the butter and olive oil in a deep pie dish, uncovered, in a full-size microwave at full power for 30 seconds.
- Add the rice, the chopped white portion of the onions and the chopped broccoli stems to the dish and stir to coat. Cook, uncovered, for 2 minutes.
- Add the broccoli florets, the lemon juice and all of the broth. Stir to mix and cook, uncovered for 6 minutes.
- Stir again and cook, uncovered, for 6 minutes. (Yes, that's a total of 12 minutes with some stirring in the middle.)
- Remove from the microwave and let stand, uncovered, for 3 or 4 minutes. If you want a creamier risotto, this is a good time to add an additional tablespoon of chicken broth. Taste, then add salt and white pepper as needed.
- Stir in the Parmesan, green portion of chopped onions, minced parsley and lemon zest if you are using some.
Risotto can be made ahead of time, IF you hold back a portion of the liquid and stop the final cooking 2 minutes early. Cover the partially cooked dish and hold at room temperature. When you are ready to serve, add the remaining liquid and cook, uncovered, for 2 or 3 minutes.