Sunday, January 18, 2015

Risotto alla Milanese and Arancini Bites

In case you missed my last post, a took an absolutely incredible culinary course at the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking over the weekend.  The course was called the Fundamentals of Italian Cooking, and it was taught by Loretta herself!  There was a ton of one on one direction, and I learned so many new flavor techniques and methods of cooking that I don't normally try on my own...I'm so excited to share them with you guys!

Risotto alla Milanese

Even though everything that we cooked tasted better than even the fanciest of Italian restaurants, my favorite recipes involved risotto!  The first thing we cooked in the class was Risotto alla Milanese, an aromatic herb-filled dish with an incredibly creamy texture (even though there is no cream in the recipe!).  I'm forever a risotto snob now because Loretta lectured us about the 3 types of rice used for risotto: (1) arborio, the typical go-to in America, (2) vialone nano, a middle of the road rice, and (3) carnaroli, the "porsche" of risotto rice.  Each of the 3 small groups followed the same recipe, but were given a different type of rice that was kept secret, with the intent of voting for the best tasting risotto at the end.  Let's just say it became visually evident that my group won when our platter was scraped clean while the other 2 had almost half of the risotto leftover.  We found out we had the priciest rice, carnaroli.  Man oh man does it make the biggest difference!  The arborio was still delicious, but go for the carnaroli if you can!  You can buy it at Galluci's downtown, any Giant Eagle Market District (but not regular Giant Eagles unfortunately), or a specialty foods store.  

A Few Important Risotto Lessons...

1) Do not be intimated by people claiming they had to stand around constantly stirring over a hot stove for an hour and a half.  It takes exactly 23 minutes with a gas stove.  
2) How is it so fast?  Italians keep the chicken stock heated in a separate saucepan so they can ladle very warm chicken stock into the risotto as the rice absorbs the liquid.  If you add room temperature stock to very hot risotto, it basically stops the cooking process until the mixture returns to it's original temperature again, hence the ridiculously long cook time.
3) Don't use a deep saucepan to cook the risotto in.  That was my first instinct, but you ideally want about a 12" diameter saucepan with 3-4" sides.  Not everybody has this, so use a large pot with a wide base if you have to substitute, but know that your risotto will be fairly shallow in the pot.
4) Use Chardonnay for the dry white wine.  I know you will be tempted to buy the $4.99 bottle of wine since it's going to "cook down"; just don't.  Cheap wine leaves a terrible sour flavor in the dish when it cooks down, and I know from firsthand experience.  Spend at least $8.99 on the bottle and drink the rest of it with your dinner.

Her recipe is very straightforward and so delicious, and it's a great base that you can doctor up for your meal with chicken, veggies, basically anything.  For chicken, she recommends adding it right away so the chicken can absorb all the broth and get really tender while it cooks.  If you add veggies, wait until there is about 10 minutes left in the cooking process so they don't turn mushy.  Whatever you do, be sure to stir constantly for the 23 minutes!


My other favorite recipe of the day were arancini, which are deep fried risotto balls stuffed with a cube of mozzarella cheese in the center.  It's totally going to become a go-to appetizer for get-togethers because they're HEAVENLY.  I mean...the recipe involves leftover risotto, mozzarella and bread crumbs.  If that combination is wrong then I don't want to be right!  Best of all, I finally got a chance to deep fry, which I never tried before!  It's so easy and I had no idea!  

To make the arancini, we added 2 beaten eggs and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese to our leftover risotto and stirred the mixture together so it binds together better.  We didn't measure the quantity of leftover risotto, but probably had about 3-4 cups of if I add to estimate.  We formed the risotto into 1.5" diameter balls using an ice cream scoop, which ensures that they're all about the same size so they cook evenly.  The next step was using our finger to poke a hole in the center of the risotto ball and slide in a very tiny cube of mozzarella cheese.  After you pat the risotto around the opening to fill the gap, you roll the ball in egg and breadcrumbs, and they're ready to fry!  They take about 1-2 minutes in oil heated to 350-375° F.  Eat them immediately and serve them with pasta sauce for dipping!


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