Risotto: Lombardy's Specialty

I asked Mario, owner & chef at one of my favorite Lake Como restaurants, for some tips on risotto. These are some of the things he does at Trattoria del Glicine which will take your risotto making to another level:

1.) Start with the correct rice.  Most restaurants on the lake use carnaroli rice, which is delicious and forgiving.  Valone nano is another great choice. 

2.) Take a little more time with your onion & rice in the pan.  Let them become toasty, with little brown bits.  This carmelization is where the flavor is.

3.)  Also take a little more time when you add 1/2 a cup of dry white wine and let the rice become dry before moving on to the broth.  Let the wine absorb well into the rice grains.

4.)  Most people overcook Risotto.  It should be no more than 14 minutes once you start the broth phase.  Mario recommends 12 minutes. I'm adding on a couple of minutes because I know how hard it is to gauge and it is difficult to trust that it is done.  Al dente is what you want.  Remember it continues to cook once taken off the heat.

 

Below is my recipe for Asparagus Risotto.  You can substitute prosecco or champagne for the white wine.  On New Year's Eve I usually make this base recipe with prosecco, without the asparagus, of course, as it is not in season.  If you want it to taste really good, say for a dinner party, add a couple more tablespoons of butter once you turn off the heat.  I won't tell anyone. 

 

RECIPE: ASPARAGUS RISOTTO                    SERVES: 4 as a main, 6 as a side

 

INGREDIENTS:

5 1/2 cups Chicken Broth

2 Tbsp Butter

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 Small Onion, chopped finely

1 3/4 Cups Carnaroli Rice

1/2 Cup Dry White Wine

Asparagus, Parboiled & cut into 1/2" pieces (upper part of stem and spears) 

5 Tbsp of Parmesan Cheese, Freshly Grated (to taste)

Pepper, Freshly Grated

Salt, if needed

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

Heat the broth to a simmer in a saucepan on medium-high heat.  Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, Dutch oven or frying pan with high sides.  Add the onion to the butter & oil first, stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook until it is translucent and softened.  Next, add in the rice.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring until some of the grains are toasted.  Add your wine and stir until it is absorbed very well.

Now begin the broth. Set your timer for 14 minutes and add a cup of the broth and stir while letting it absorb by the rice.  Continue adding broth once the previous amount has dried up,  about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup at a time.  About half way through this cooking time, you can add in most of the asparagus.  Save some spears for garnishing the finished risotto at the end.

After about 14 minutes of the rice absorbing the broth, take the pan off the heat and gently stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese.  Season with pepper. Depending on the saltiness of your broth and butter and how much parmesan you sprinkle on top of each plated dish, you may not need salt at all.   Distribute the risotto into plates using the reserved spears for garnish on top. Sprinkle more parmesan cheese on top as well.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gelato Season

Grapenut Pudding Ice Cream

Now that we are smack-dab in the middle of ice cream season my thoughts turn to Grapenuts. Yup, Grapenuts. This ice cream flavor, although uncommon, is other-worldly-delicious.  I recall seeing it as a child on ice cream shop menus in Maine or Massachusetts. Grapenut Ice Cream is a nostalgic, New England flavor. Now I live in Italy and, of course, there is no shortage of heavenly gelato here.  All of the usual suspects are represented: Chocolate, Fior di Latte, Stracciatella (like chocolate chip), Caffe, Amarena (cherry/vanilla) and so on, but never Grapenut. Although the Italian shops make amazing gelato, they don't offer the flavor variety of their American counterparts. Luckily I have an ice cream machine & guests who smuggle Grapenuts for me in their luggage. It's an awesome hostess gift. Who knew, right? 

This recipe has developed over the years as each Summer I would obsessively play with the ratios of ingredients.  My version is a vanilla custard base (closer to Italian gelato using egg yolks and cooking the base) but walks the line with American ice cream because it has equal ratios of cream & milk and only 3 yolks.

Ingredients

Grapenut Ice Cream

2 cups of Whole Milk

2 cups of Heavy Cream

3 Egg Yolks

1/4 cup of a good quality, mild flavored Honey

1/4 cup of cane Sugar

2 Tablespoons of *Vanilla Paste

1 cup of **Grapenuts Cereal

Pour the milk & cream into a saucepan on medium heat and heat until just below boiling. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar & vanilla paste for a couple of minutes.  It should turn a lighter color of yellow and be pretty smooth. You will get a smoother texture if you use regular white caster sugar in leu of the cane sugar.  Either is fine.  I've been convinced that cane sugar is better for you and of higher quality as an ingredient, but I might be a victim of marketing.

Add 4 tablespoons of the hot milk mixture into your bowl of the egg/sugar mixture. This will warm up your yellow mix.  Then pour it all slowly into your milk & cream mixture on the stove while stirring constantly.  Important: Stir and add slowly, you do not want the egg to curdle.  Heat until thickened, about 3 minutes.  Until the mixture sticks to the back of your spoon.

Let it cool down and then cover your saucepan with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Or if you have more urgent ice cream needs, you could make an ice bath. The mixture must be completely cooled before placing into the ice cream machine.

Pour the cooled ice cream mixture into the machine and let it run for about 20 minutes.  (Follow the instructions on your particular machine). Add grape-nuts and let run another 5-7 minutes.  It can be eaten right away but is a softer consistency of ice cream and the grapenuts are still a bit too crunchy.  I usually place into an airtight container and freeze for several hours before serving. The ice cream is better once it sits, so that the grape-nuts become more soft. It is good day 1, but better on day 2.

Here's how your sugar/egg yolk/vanilla paste mix should look:

Sugar, Vanilla Paste, Egg Yolk

 Just turned ice cream in the cuisinart machine.

Freshly churned ice cream above.

Delegate.

* If you have never tried cooking or baking with Vanilla Paste; you need to!  It is available on Amazon.  Vanilla Paste is an amazing 1:1 substitute for vanilla extract and vanilla bean.  It contains the little black seeds, so that steeping and scraping the bean in this recipe is not necessary. I use it more often than not in place of both extract and vanilla beans.

** Post Grapenuts cereal does not contain nuts.  It is made with wheat and barley. No grapes, either!

Notes/Links:

This recipe is quite sweet because that's how we roll over here. However, you could easily use a bit less of the sugar & honey.

You could play with the milk & cream ratio, too.  My original inspiration was from the 1999 (ohhh, Prince!) Cuisinart Recipe Booklet for Premium Vanilla Ice Cream. Check out Ice Cream Nation for more recipes & info on the difference between French/Italian & American versions of ice cream: http://bit.ly/29QNJqL 

The NY Times has a master ice cream recipe (for the base) you could try which is richer: more yolks & cream.  You can add the Grapenuts flavor to this base or come up with your own flavors. The Times article also has a great guide for mix-ins: http://nyti.ms/1z8FKh5

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Italy's Refreshing Summer Cocktails

HUGO

 

This refreshing drink is becoming increasingly popular in all of Italy, but originated in the Alto Adige / South Tyrol area.  It is a sort of light, European Mojito. Here in Lake Como it is not nearly as common as the Aperol Spritz.  Only a few restaurants on the lake make it. The Hugo is on Villa D'Este's drinks menu but the luxe hotel uses St. Germain liqueur in leu of Elderflower syrup (Elderflower syrup is non-alcoholic).  Both cocktails are yummy!

Hugo (pronounced "Ugo")

5 or so fresh Mint leaves

Ice

150 ml Prosecco

100 ml Soda water

1 Lime (juiced & strained)

1 T of Elderflower Syrup, or Holunder Syrup

Recipe:  Muddle the mint leaves in the glass a bit to release the flavor.  Fill glass with ice cubes. Next add the prosecco to the glass, then add soda water, lime juice & elderflower syrup.  Give it a stir.

APEROL SPRITZ

Aperol Spritz

Ice

Prosecco

1 T Aperol (cousin of Campari)

Splash of Soda water

One 2" shaving of Orange peel

Recipe: Fill glass with ice cubes. Fill 3/4 of the glass with prosecco then add a tablespoon of Aperol, a splash of soda water and a shaving of orange peel.  Alternatively, you can add a slice or wedge of orange to replace the section of orange peel.

Aperol Spritz Variation

The Marketplace Restaurant in Como serves their Aperol Spritz with a shaving of lemon, as opposed to orange giving the drink a nice, refined taste.  I prefer it since Aperol aperitif contains bitter orange flavor already. The shaving of lemon, as opposed to orange, adds complexity.

 

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