Ask my kids! Nobody ever accused me of being a helicopter mom. Yet, in the kitchen that’s exactly what I am. If the pots and pans could speak, they would tell you how I hover over them, never allowing them the freedom to burn the bacon or undercook the chicken legs.
Doesn’t everyone do that? Not my husband. He’ll throw a steak into a hot pan and then off he goes to see what he’s missing on TV. He’ll be cheering for — or, more likely, swearing at — the Knicks while the meat is in the other room sizzling away. Somehow he has a knack for returning at the right moment because, for the most part, whatever he cooks turns out pretty good.
Not my style. I’m like a cat waiting patiently, observing every signal, ready to pounce at the right moment. Are the chicken cutlets perfectly browned and ready to be turned over? I count down the seconds until I see the perfect shade of brown. Is the pasta mostly soft but still slightly firm in the middle? I start testing individual pieces minutes before the expected done time, with the colander ready and waiting in the sink.
So I have to disagree when people say that cooking authentic Italian-style risotto is slow and painful. Sure, you have to stand at the stove, adding broth and stirring constantly, but it only takes about 20 minutes and that’s no time at all for a helicopter cook like me!
The origins of risotto can be debated, but this classic dish is usually associated with northern Italy and the most famous version is from Milan, Risotto alla Milanese. All risottos are built around the same core components: rice, stock, onions, butter, wine, and parmesan. Other ingredients in a risotto can be varied, and some of my favorites, like in the recipe below, include mushrooms.
When deciding what to drink with the risotto, my mind instantly traveled to northern Italy where one of my favorite wine regions, Alto Adige, is located. This mountainous area, located in the heart of the Alps, is full of vineyards planted on the foothills of the Dolomites and is especially known for its crisp white wines. The contrast between warm summer days and cold nights, even in the height of summer, allows winemakers in Alto Adige to produce some very focused and flavorful wines that have a lot of finesse.
Peter Zemmer is one of Alto Adige’s most respected vintners and his fans prize the winery’s flavorful and vibrantly fresh alpine wines. The winery recently introduced a new Riserva edition of Pinot Grigio, called “Giatl” (Ghee-AT-uhl, meaning “little vineyard” in the local dialect) that was sent to me as a sample.
This wine is not your typical, insipid Pinot Grigio. Fermented and aged for one year in French oak, followed by six months on the lees in stainless steel, the wine remains in the bottle another six months before being released.
The great care taken to make this wine shows in its beautiful golden yellow color and enticing aromas of fresh fruit and herbs. I detected ripe pear, mango, and papaya, along with mint, thyme, and parsley — perfect with the mushrooms. The round and creamy texture, and a long-lingering, lemony flavor enhanced the creaminess of the dish, while the bright acidity left you wanting more — more wine and more risotto, please!
So don your helicopter blades and start hovering. Don’t worry what the neighbors will think, you’ve got to keep those pots and pans in line, after all.
Risotto With Mushrooms and Hazelnuts
Adapted from a recipe by Myleen Sagrado Sjödin on www.allrecipes.com
4 to 5 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 & 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms (I used portobello, shiitake and cremini)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 shallots, diced
1 & 1/2 cups Arborio rice
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup hazelnuts, cut in half
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives (optional)
1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped, flat-leaf parsley
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and wrap nuts in a kitchen towel and let them steam 1 minute. Rub nuts in towel to remove loose skins (don’t worry about skins that don’t come off). Set aside.
2) In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.
3) Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft, adding salt and pepper to taste, about 3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.
4) Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet, and stir in the shallots. Cook 1 minute. Add rice and thyme, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed. Add juice from mushrooms and 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until liquid is absorbed. Remove thyme sprigs. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes. You may not need to add all of the broth. It’s important to taste the rice as you go along and stop cooking when it’s al dente (resists slightly to the tooth, but not hard in the center).
5) Remove from heat, and stir in mushrooms, butter, hazelnuts, chives (if using), and parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
And, as they say in this northerly part of Italy, with its strong Germanic culture, Guten Appetit!