Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ugly Good

Anyone who has ever watched The Food Network has heard at least 20 times, "you eat with your eyes first."  There is truth to that.  Several years ago the hubs and I went to dinner at the home of one of his fellow grad students.  I'd not met James' wife before that evening.  When we sat down at the table I looked at what was in the bowl in front of me and said a silent prayer that I would be able to eat it without making faces that would upset Stacy.  "It" turned out to be a hearty and delicious sausage and lentil soup.  So delicious that I asked Stacy for the recipe and have made it several times since.

The concept of "ugly good" was in my head while making dinner last night.  I had taken some steak out of the freezer yesterday morning with absolutely no idea what I was going to do with it at the time.  Later in the afternoon it occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to try a risotto recipe that's been lurking around in my head for a couple of years.  If I had everything I needed.

Being a fan of all things carbohydrate, I love risotto.  I've made it in several different manners and have yet to encounter one I don't like.  At some point I had run across a recipe from Williams-Sonoma for Risotto with Red Wine and Beef that I had saved.  That was my starting point.

The WS recipe called for beef sirloin.  I had our inexpensive flat steaks from WalMart.  It called for yellow onion.  I had red.  It called for cardoon.  (Truly I have little idea what that is besides a vegetable as I've never seen cardoon in Carbondale.)  I had carrots.  It called for Chianti or some other full-bodied, dry red wine even suggesting the pricey Barolo.  I had Chambourcin from Owl Creek (courtesy of Norm and Alicia).  It didn't call for cheese.  In my opinion, risotto must have cheese.  I had Grana Padano.

This is what I ended up with:
Version 1:  Risotto without cheese

Version 2:  Risotto with cheese.
The winner.

The hubs liked it enough to declare he would eat it again although we both agreed on a couple of things:  1) the beef needed to be browned more, which I corrected in my version of the recipe; 2) the addition of some cremini mushrooms would probably be nice.  And while the Chambourcin from Owl Creek worked out very well (also for drinking), it is more medium bodied so I would be interested in trying this again with a full-bodied red.  Overall, ugly, but good.  Even as left-overs for lunch today.

Red Wine Risotto with Beef 
4 to 5 cups low-sodium chicken stock
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound boneless beef sirloin (or cut of your choice), cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup chopped red onion
3/4 cup sliced carrots
3 Tbs unsalted butter, divided
1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/2 cup dry red wine at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated cheese, such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano

In a 2 quart saucepan over medium heat, bring the stock to a gentle simmer and maintain over low heat.  Heat the oil in a large, heavy sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the beef and cook until browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the onion and carrots and sauté another 5 to 7 minutes or until softened.  Transfer the beef mixture to a bowl and set aside.  Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the same pan.  Add the rice and stir until each grain is well coated and translucent with a white dot in the center, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the wine, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, and stir until it is completely absorbed.

Add the simmering stock a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently after each addition.  Wait until the stock is almost completely absorbed (but the rice is never dry on top) before adding the next ladleful.  Reserve 1/4 cup stock to add at the end.
When the rice is tender to the bite but slightly firm in the center and looks creamy, after about 20 minutes, stir in the beef mixture.  Cook, stirring occasionally, to heat through, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and reserved 1/4 cup stock.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with freshly grated cheese.
Serves 4 nicely.
Adapted from "The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook" (Free Press, 2008)