Chris and I and two dear friends, Karen and Jim, consumed the creamy sugar snap risotto shown above at a special dinner last week on our deck. It was part of an incredible meal I bid on in a silent auction this past spring at a fundraising dinner organized by The Riverwood Conservancy in Mississauga, Ontario. I couldn’t resist the idea of having a professional chef, in this case Chris Pires of Food Inspires, come over to our house and do all the cooking (and the cleanup, too) for a three-course dinner of my choice, so I kept bidding until it was mine.
Chris Pires is a lucky guy who’s following his avocation–he left his 25-year banking career the end of 2011 and spent a year in chef training before opening his cheffing business; he also teaches cooking and baking for Loblaws PC Cooking Schools and Liaison College. Typically, his delicious dinner incorporated local produce, including rhubarb (in a tart/sweet sauce), basil (in a zesty pesto used to coat the beef tenderloin) and asparagus (roasted and wrapped in bundles with prosciutto), plus of course, the sugar snap peas in a rich and creamy risotto.
I’m featuring the risotto here not because I grew the sugar snaps (although I have been known to do so) but because I think risotto gets a bad rap–it’s not nearly as difficult to make as many cookbooks imply, and it’s incredibly versatile and unfailingly delicious. It can be made “plain” (chicken stock and parmesan), with seafood and lemon, with chopped pancetta and rapini (one of my favourites), with fresh corn and cherry tomatoes (delicious in late summer, with both fresh from the market), or chef Chris Pires’s way, with fresh-picked sugar snap peas and bacon. Yum. (He makes it other ways too, including with mushrooms and with squash.)
I didn’t try to make risotto until a friend who was food editor at a magazine where I worked joked that she thought Italian chefs were trying to intimidate us ordinary cooks with scare stories about having to stand over the stove stirring the risotto pot constantly for 15 minutes. “I get it going for five minutes or so,” she told me, “then I leave it while I do other things and come back for an other good stir and more stock as each addition is absorbed. It’s easy.”
She was right, and Chris agrees. “It isn’t something you need to constantly stir or watch over, but you do need to make sure it doesn’t dry out,” he says. “To me risotto is a lot easier than regular rice as you have more control over the liquid. With boiled rice, put in too much water and you’re done. Risotto also has parmesan added at the end which helps absorb any excess liquid.”
Even my first try was successful, and now I try risotto with all kinds of ingredients. I especially like using vegetables fresh from the garden but a risotto is also a forgiving way to use up some of the days-old collection in the crisper.
How to use leftover risotto
Here are Chris’s suggestion for using leftover risotto…you may even want to make extra so you can try some of these ideas. Leftover risotto becomes starchy and lends itself to being shaped in similar fashion to arancini, the deep-fried rice snack containing tomato that’s sold by Italian street vendors.
Stuffed risotto balls:
First bring the leftover risotto to room temperature. Using the palm of your hand, shape about 1/4 cup of the risotto into a cup and stuff with chopped leftover meat or chicken in a bit of tomato sauce. Be sure to simmer the sauce down until it thickens. Dip ball in a wash made of beaten egg, roll in bread crumbs and pan fry in olive oil.
Unstuffed risotto balls:
These are even easier and are delicious used as an accompaniment to a Nicoise-style salad of hard-boiled eggs, cooked and chilled green beans or asparagus, lettuce or arugula. To make them use a small scoop or a teaspoon to shape the room-temperature risotto into small balls. Roll them in a crumb mixture of parsley, fresh white bread crumbs, finely chopped garlic and grated parmesan cheese whirled for a few seconds in the food processor.
Saute in butter and olive oil, deep fry or, for a healthier option, bake them. Remember that everything is cooked so you just want to brown and heat them.