Sunday, October 3, 2010

kale and pumpkin seed risotto

pumpkin seeds
when we first decided to buy
this house, one of the things i
was most excited about was
the kitchen. yes, it was
painted four colors, each one
worse than the last. no,
it was not as large as i would
have liked. and, no, it did
not come stocked with
designer up-to-date appliances.

but, the wooden cabinets were high,
the counter space was plentiful
and it was hard not to notice the
three huge windows.
our old apartment boasted one tiny
brick-facing piece of glass
on the complete opposite
side of the kitchen workspace.
my first thought?
finally, i can get some good pictures.

but, people.
this kitchen is full of deception.
how did we not realize that there
is only one very dim, very yellow
light in the entire room?
the windows offer little help.
it's hard enough to
see the food when we cook.
taking pictures? well, unless
i decide to quit my job and
cook every meal in the middle
of the day, they're kind of a joke.

i find myself rushing home,
trying to catch the last moments
of sunlight and learning that even
when there's dimming daylight
outside, it's still too dark.
lacinato kale
this kale?
i took at least 30 pictures in
six different places in the kitchen.
this, standing directly in front of the window,
is the best of the bunch,
(see my neighbor's pathway
blurry in the background?).
i hoped that maybe my eyes
were playing tricks on me.
that maybe, when they were on
off the camera and blown up on
the computer screen i would realize
that it wasn't so bad. but, i've
come to terms with the fact that
clearly, we have a situation here.

i'm going to do the best i can
going forward into the colder
and darker months. i'm going
to research new lenses and
find a reliable electrician to
install usable lights into
our ceiling and invest in different
window treatments for our windows.

and, i'm going to make us
more of this risotto. because even
if the few pictures might not be so
pretty, this is the kind of meal
you want to have in your cooking
arsenal on chilly, dark, winter nights.
carnaroli rice
i think risotto has a bad reputation.
when i told my grandmother that
i was making it for dinner, she was
shocked that i would attempt such a
laborious dish on a work night. but,
in case you haven't made risotto yourself,
here's the deal: the total time is short.
it's the hands-on time that risks becoming
a turn off. because really, all you have to
do is heat up some broth, saute onions,
pop open a bottle of wine and commit
to stirring for about 20-25 minutes.

i usually convince larry to hang out with
me during the stirring, but i've also
found that itunes, a phone call or
my own thoughts
are enough to distract me from
the potentially monotonous activity.

the method for this risotto echos
the most classic recipes. but, it
was the two title ingredients that
intrigued me enough to give it a go.

we, like many people i know, have
become big kale eaters over the past
year and i've discovered that even
though i had previously
avoided the leaves for
fear of overtly bitter notes, we are never
fighting through eating the greens.
i loved the idea of stirring tender,
but still hearty, strands
into the al dente grains.
i also liked that by first boiling the leaves
in chicken broth, their flavor
infuses the rice's cooking liquid.

the toasted pumpkin seeds were
the second reason that i wanted into
this dish. risotto is lovely - creamy,
indulgent and full of comfort. but,
like a plain bowl of vanilla ice cream (also,
creamy, indulgent and full of comfort),
i get bored with an entire serving of one
texture. crisp lightly salted pumpkin seeds
were the perfect foil.

on this night,
i wanted the pepitas seeds
out of the way.
i started by toasting them
until they were puffy and golden,
then drizzled with oil and a touch
of kosher salt, per the recipe,
before adding a couple dashes of
cayenne, to add a touch of spice to
the finished dish.
translucent onions
rice sauteed with onions
next, while the onions sauteed,
i simmered the chopped kale in
a mixture of chicken broth and water
(next time i would use all chicken broth),
before draining the greens and setting
them aside. from there on, it was
business as usual,
adding a bit of chopped garlic,
then the rice to the onions.
deglazing with white wine
and then adding the broth,
by the ladleful, all the while,
stirring the mixture.

when creamy,
i mixed in a pat of butter,
a healthy handful of grated pecorino romano,
the kale and generous squeezes
of lemon juice that i was pretty sure
the mixture would need. i tasted it
and wished that i had replaced part
of the grated cheese with goat cheese.
i think the tang would have put the whole
dish over the top. but still, i was happy.

i violated every photography rule out
there and placed the plates of
pumpkin seed-sprinkled risotto
directly under that one dim light in the
kitchen and hoped for the best.

then, i let go.
it is, after all, risotto.
it waits for no one.
especially not,
a poorly lit kitchen and
an amateur photographer.
kale and pumpkin seed risotto
kale and pumpkin seed risotto
adapted from gourmet magazine
if you've never made risotto before, this one does have a couple extra steps, but nothing that you can't handle. i will say, though that this is a perfect recipe to practice your mise en place.

i made several changes: i used a greater ratio of chicken broth to water than called for - as i said above, next time i would use all chicken broth. i chopped the kale before cooking, instead of cooking, straining and cutting as it instructs in the recipe. i used an entire white onion instead of measuring, switched in pecorino romano for the parmigiano-regianno, squeezed in lemon juice and added cayenne pepper to the pumpkin seeds to give the dish a slightly spicy edge. i'm writing it below as i made it, but i do think that next time i would increase the garlic, add more lemon and if i was feeling completely indulgent, stir in some of that goat cheese.

spicy pumpkin seeds
1 cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon olive oil
kosher salt
cayenne pepper

in dry heavy skillet over medium heat, cook pumpkin seeds 5 minutes, or until puffed and golden. remove from heat; stir in olive oil. season with salt and cayenne to taste. set aside.

5 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken broth
3 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 pound lacinato kale
1 white onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice (10 ounces)
1/3 cup white wine
1 juicy lemon, juiced
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano

in saucepot, bring broth and water to a boil; add 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt.

meanwhile, cut stems and center ribs from kale; discard. cut kale into 1-inch ribbons. add kale to broth in batches, stirring between additions. reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, or until kale is tender. carefully pour into strainer set over a large bowl; press on kale to extract as much liquid as possible. transfer liquid back into saucepot; turn heat to low.

meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon butter until melted and hot; add onion and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. cover; reduce heat to low. cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until translucent. add garlic; cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly. add rice and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly.

increase heat to medium; add wine and simmer until absorbed, stirring constantly. stir in 1/2 cup warm broth; stir constantly until broth is absorbed. add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and waiting until the liquid is absorbed. you can stop adding the broth when the mixture is creamy and the rice is tender, but still al dente, about 18-22 minutes. reduce heat to low.

stir in kale, lemon juice, remaining butter, cheese and salt and pepper to taste. cook 1 minute more to incorporate. stir in some of the remaining broth mixture to thin out, if desired.

transfer to serving bowls; sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds. serve with extra pecorino romano for sprinkling, if desired.

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