Monday, July 20, 2009

A good risotto, and a lesson (re)learned

This weekend was a mixed bag. Let's start with the good stuff.

Friday night: sweet summer corn risotto with tarragon. I've been making risotto for a long time. My mother gave me a risotto cookbook in college when I moved into my first off-campus apartment. I quickly learned the basic method, and in the many years since I've made a lot of varieties: risotto with tomatoes; risotto with wild mushrooms; risotto with lemon; even a crazy fuchsia beet risotto, which I liked but to which the husband said firmly afterward, "Too beety." He won that one.

Mostly I make risotto with whatever I have at hand. It's such a flexible dish, you can use almost anything. There are a few ingredients, though, that I think of as staples: shallots, good white wine, and softened butter or mascarpone to stir in at the end.

On friday I used my basic recipe and toward the end folded in two shucked ears of corn and some tarragon. At the very end, when the heat was off, I stirred in mascarpone and grated lemon zest. It turned out perfectly, complex and bright, especially alongside two little pink pieces of salmon the husband had picked up at Good Life.

Saturday night: roasted pork loin with cherry-port sauce. I won't get into much detail about the pork itself because I always do roasts the same way: slather them in rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil and roast at 425. Simple and fool-proof.

It was the sauce that tripped me up. That night, I was feeling a dangerous mix of confident (I'd made a fig-port sauce before with fabulous results), thrifty (I had another sack of cherries to use), and a little reckless (cocktail hour had come and gone). I pitted some cherries and threw them in a saucepan with some port, chicken broth, honey, rosemary, a cinnamon stick, salt and pepper. I put it on to simmer and came back in 30 minutes. It was gorgeous and deeply red, I noticed, but not as thick as I would have liked.

Now, someone who was more clever, or at least someone who learned from past mistakes, might have considered that swapping one fruit for another doesn't always work. In this case, the original recipe I was using as a base called for dried figs, while I was using fresh cherries. Dried fruit is different than fresh fruit, in that it's, you know, dry.

In addition to feeling confident, thrifty, and reckless, I was also feeling stubborn. Although I could tell the sauce wasn't ready, I pureed it in a blender, adding butter for glossiness. Beautiful, vibrant color! Runny though. I put it back in the pan and I let it simmer for another 15 minutes and finally drizzled it over the roast. The husband, who does not care much for sauces, thought it was fine. I was pleased with the flavor but wholly disappointed in the thin, watery consistency.

The lesson here, is twofold: 1) dried fruit works better for these kinds of things and 2) learn from past mistakes. For heaven's sake, that's what I have a blog for, isn't it?

There were other good things to eat throughout the weekend--scones, a grilled eggplant salad, and pasta with shrimp and tomato-cream sauce. But, I have no pictures of those. Sometimes I just can't be bothered with the picture-taking. I make it, and then I eat it, period. That's just the way the Hungry Dog rolls.


  1. The pics you do take are beautiful! I agree that not everything has to be photographed, at times it's so nice just to relax and eat it!
    Sometimes it's tough to remember the lessons we've learned. As a repeat preformer, I've often wondered if I've ever learned any lesson. But indeed that's what a blog is for, cooking, thinking and writing those thoughts. Maybe not all of them.....that could get dicey.
    By the way, I love that cherry pic! Pam

  2. I like the way you roll. You've once again made me hungry!

  3. Pam: Thank you for the compliment! I'm only just learning how to take photos.

    Cee: My mission is to make people hungry.

  4. I agree with you take on photo capturing, sometimes I am just too damn lazy or hungry to take a photo.

  5. "Dried fruit is different than fresh fruit, in that it's, you know, dry."
    --insert riotous laughter here.
    "I make it, and then I eat it, period. That's just the way the Hungry Dog rolls."
    --insert amen here.

  6. egg to the apples: eating beats blogging.

    Grace: thanks! Oh, you've been linked!

  7. hey - just made the cherry 'hangover' cake last night...didn't have a hangover, but it was fantastic. once again, thanks for the inspiration!

  8. I love making risotto too and it's a great blank canvas to get creative. The sweet corn risotto sounds great. For the port, you're really adventurous to make that. I wonder if adding a bit of sugar might help in the thickening process? It might make it too sweet but it might help thicken, although reductions are always about patience. ;-)

  9. DS: I'm so glad the cake worked out!

    Single Guy Ben: Unfortunately, I think you're right in saying patience is the key ingredient to a good reduction.

  10. Thank goodness for the pics you do post! Those cherries look mighty fine...and I love risotto:)