It is one of my VERY few, absolutely favorite vegetables. I know it sounds craaaaazy but I actually DO remember my first encounter with cauliflowers. My mom has this genius (lazy) thing… she likes to add certain vegetables such as cucumbers or cabbages into pork-bones stock and braise until they practically disintegrate into the soup… So there, explains my fixation on mushy veggies nowadays. Anyways, so one day she did that genius (lazy!) thing again but with cauliflowers this time. As my memory recalls, I politely tasted (gulped down) the soup of the day like a young lady (a little shrew), my big googly eyes (very small) widened as I was so pleasantly delighted (psyched!) by this new found taste.
“Mommy (MAAA!!!), what is this?”
“WHITE BROCCOLI…. ooohhh….. “
In little Mandy’s heart, the world has now a very yummy vegetable called the white broccoli…
Believe it or not, I was blissfully calling it the “white broccoli” for the longest time until of course, knowledge (embarrassment) inevitably came. What? They have COMPLETELY different names in English? Ha… Oh English, what a naughty language you are…
Anyways, so as much as “I’ve always loved cauliflower”, I never really knew any other ways to eat it beside… braising it to a pulp. I rarely see it in salads. It doesn’t come much in side dishes either. And it definitely isn’t very popular in restaurants as, I suppose, even professionals find it less than inspiring. How can such a wonderful veggie be so underutilized? Therefore I ADORE Thomas Keller for featuring it in his ad hoc at home cookbook, in the form of a pureed soup. But soup… I mean let’s face it… isn’t the most exciting way to cook a veggie you don’t know what to do with. So this is how my logic works. *RULES: Any soup puree can, of course, naturally, by ANY MEANS, WHY THE HELL ON EARTH NOT be transformed into a risotto. Think about it. It totally makes sense.
Risottos are EEEEAAAAASSSY… to make edible that is. To make perfect. Humph… that’s something else entirely.
I get a little… self-conscious if you will, talking about “authenticity” of a cuisine that isn’t part of my background. I’ve had my fair share of Italian dishes (please, New York. Hello!), done my fair share of Italian cooking and watched my fare share of Travel Channel shows, but truth be told for the “second time”, I… have never actually been to Italy. So for honesty sake, I’m only taking other people’s words for what constitutes as a “perfect” risotto. After a few years of selecting and filtering, “MY” perfect risotto doesn’t go beyond a couple of rules. First of course, the rice needs to be arborio rice and cooked al dente meaning it still retains a bit of a bite and not mushy. Then it needs to be slightly “soupy”. If the risotto is able to “stand up”, it means it’s too thick. There. Beyond that, I think anything goes. Really.
Servings: 2 dinner size servings
- 1 Cauliflower
- 1 1/2 cup of arborio rice
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 tbsp of butter
- 1 small diced onion
- 3 cloves of chopped garlic
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- 1/4 tsp of curry powder
- 4 cups of chicken stock, warmed up (might be more than needed but let’s be safe)
- 2 cups of whole milk (again might be more than actually needed)
- 2 tbsp of butter to be melted at the end
- Parmigiano cheese
- Salt and pepper
- Mini florets from 1/2 the cauliflower
- 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/4 tsp of black and white pepper each
- 1 tbsp of grated parmigiano
Preheat the oven on 420ºF/220ºC. Trim the cauliflowers into large florets and try to peel off as much tough fibers on the stems as possible. Take half of the large florets, and cut off the “mini” florets at the tips. Basically what I will be left with is a lot of mini cauliflowers with a few big stems. OMG they are so cute!… Evenly spread the mini florets on a baking dish and toss with extra virgin olive oil, salt, black and white pepper and Parmigiano cheese. Bake in the oven until golden-browned and soft.
Meanwhile, transfer the stems and the rest of the large florets in a food processor, and pulse until chopped into very tiny pieces (the size of chopped garlic). These pieces need to be very tiny. Tiny enough that they will melt into the risotto while it’s cooking. Heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter in a dutch oven on medium heat, and saute the onion, garlic and thyme with a pinch of salt until translucent but NOT browned. While that’s happening, warm up the chicken stock and salt it (how much? as how I would like my chicken soup). Then hold the arborio rice in a sieve and rinse under cold water for NO MORE THAN 10 sec…
“Horrid!!!!”… Shush!! NOW, this will NEVER be done in any cookbooks, or TV shows, or wherever it is that people get their recipes. It ISN’T traditional, or authentic, or whatever it is that people call it. BUUUUT, I find it helpful to rinse off the excess starch on the rice JUST A BIT, in terms of creating a better consistency in the final product. It kind of prevents the stock from thickening into a big starchy, heavy, “batter-like” mess. Some might scream, “Doesn’t that take off the creaminess in the liquid!!!????” Well… not really. The rice itself already release enough starch to thicken the cooking liquid in my opinion. If extra creaminess is desired, it can be created by adding a little nub of mascarpone in the end. For me at least. If this STRONGLY violates anyone’s belief then skip it… It’s only gonna hurt my feelings a little bit…
Once the onions and etc are translucent, add the arborio rice. Saute the rice in the oil a bit until they start to stick to the pot a little bit. Add the curry powder and chopped cauliflower, and cook slightly, then add 1 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of milk. Turn the heat down to medium low and let the rice simmer in the liquid while stirring occasionally. When the liquid is absorbed by 1/2, TURN OFF the heat and put the lid on. Leave the pot alone for 20 min.
NOW, again. NOT quite what most of the recipes would do. BUUUUT, what it does is that it allows the rice to be “steamed” in the pot OFF HEAT in order to reach a more even done-ness throughout the grain. Most of the time risottos fail because while the outer layer of the grains gets overcooked and starts to disintegrate into liquid and make a mess, the center of grain is still raw and “powdery”. Of course part of that mistake falls on the fact that the heat isn’t meticulously controlled, but why not do it in an easier way? Michael Chiarello precook his risotto rice half way, and finish it when the order comes in so this isn’t unprecedented.
At this point, the pot can sit there for 20 min or until whenever the “order” comes in. But I wouldn’t leave it for more than 2 hours. In that case the rice may need to be taken out and spread thinly on a sheet pan. When the “order” comes in, open the lid and turn the heat back on to medium low. Add 1 cup of chicken stock + 1/2 cup of milk at a time and let it simmer. A few things to take note of along this process:
* Every time the liquid is absorbed by half, add another 1-cup-chicken-stock+1/2-cup-milk. NEVER let the cooking liquid run dry.
* The stirring should be occasional, like every 3~5 min, NOT CONSTANT. Some people just stand by the stove and stirring SENSELESSLY like a hypnosis. Dude! That’s only gonna break up the rice and make PORRIDGE! STOP! If managing the heat isn’t your best skill and are worried about sticking, then use a non-stick. The rice wants to be kept whole. Respect its wish.
* Adjust the seasoning with salt along the way.
* I can’t say how long it’s going to take because every stove is different. Base it on the done-ness of of rice.
From time to time, taste-test the rice. It should still have a bit of bite but not “powdery”. Be very careful now. The rice will go from perfectly cooked to you-just-missed-the-boat mushy in a few seconds. So when the rice is done , make sure there’s enough liquid in the risotto that when the pot is “shaken”, a ripple can run across the surface. AND TURN OFF THE HEAT IMMEDIATELY. Add 2 tbsp of butter and let it melt into the liquid. Legend has it that the legendary Italians would toss the risotto in the pot sky-high to form a creamy emulsion with all its awesomeness!
I don’t toss. I can’t toss. Do it if you are a tosser.
Top the risotto with the toasted florets and more shaved parmigiano cheese. Sprinkle a few leaves of thyme and serve immediately. This dish cannot wait. DON’T wait. Just eat it RIGHT AWAY. EAT IT NOW!!!