Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Veggie risotto

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 Veggie risotto
Variable to accommodate just about any vegetables you've got handy, this easy risotto can fill us up without filling us out, if you know what I mean.
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Veggie risotto

The New Year is here, the holiday celebrations are over, and most of us are probably just about ready for a return to simple, warming fare that can fill us up without filling us out, if you know what I mean.

I'm a great fan of risotto at any time of year, but it's a special treat on brisk winter evenings because - at least from the standpoint of the cook - it warms you twice, once when you dine and before that when you work over the simmering pot of rice, ingredients and broth.

Some good cooks fear risotto a little because the procedure sounds labor-intensive; you do have to give it most of your attention while it's cooking because it needs almost constant stirring.

But it's easier than it looks - the stirring phase needs only 20 minutes or so, and you can take short breaks if you're careful - and the rewards are ample.

When I make risotto, I usually do it as the central dish a one-course meal, so I can focus my full attention on the rice without worrying about side dishes. If the risotto alone isn't enough to suit you, it's easy to make a salad and have a loaf of good bread ready to go before you start.

Best of all, once you've mastered the easy method, you'll no longer need a cookbook or specific recipe to toss together a good one from leftovers or just about anything you can find in the refrigerator or pantry. I came up with today's all-vegetable recipe by the simple expedient of looking in the refrigerator crisper drawer and pretty much pulling out all the old veggies that needed to be used up while they were still edible. You could substitute just about any vegetable you like, or add meat or substitute chicken or beef broth for this quick homemade veggie broth if you're feeling carnivorous.


(Serves two)

For the vegetable broth:
6 cups water
About 1/4 of a white or yellow sweet onion
1 carrot
1 clove garlic
1 stalk celery
Black peppercorns

For the risotto
The vegetable broth above
Enough white or yellow sweet onion to make 1/2 cup (120g) when chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
Green bell pepper, enough to make 1/4 cup (60g)
1 stalk celery, with leaves
6-8 brown button mushrooms
Cabbage, enough to make 2 cups when shredded
3 tablespoons (45g) butter
Dried red-pepper flakes
2/3 cup (160g) Arborio, Carnaroli or other risotto rice. Don't substitute long-grain.
2 tablespoons grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Black pepper


1. Make the vegetable broth: Put the water in a large saucepan. Peel the chunk of onion, leaving it in one piece. Peel and smash the garlic cloves. Peel the carrot. Put the onion, garlic, carrot and celery in the water with a couple of pinches of salt and a dozen black peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered on a back burner for about 15 minutes.

2. Prepare your ingredients: While the broth is simmering, peel and chop the onion, peel and mince the garlic, chop the green pepper and the celery, and wash, destem and cut the mushrooms into thick slices. Slice the cabbage into very fine shreds. Assemble the vegetables in separate small bowls or dishes and have them handy as you cook; this organized process - chefs call it "mise en place" - will help you work much more efficiently.

3. On a burner directly in front of the simmering broth, melt about 2 1/2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat in a saucier or saucepan, reserving the last bit of butter for later use. Put in the chopped onions and garlic and a discreet shake of dried red-pepper flakes, and saute until the vegetables are translucent but not browning. In succession, add the chopped green pepper, celery and mushroom slices, stirring each addition briefly until it warms through. Put in the sliced cabbage and toss briefly until the cabbage wilts and the vegetables are just starting to brown.

4. Put in the rice and stir briefly until the rice is well mixed in with the vegetables. Then, following the standard procedure for risotto, reduce heat to medium and start stirring in the broth, one half-cup ladle full at a time, stirring almost constantly and adding more broth as each previous addition is absorbed. Continue this process for 15 to 25 minutes, until the rice is tender but still just barely al dente at the center. Put in one more ladle of broth, stir until it's mostly absorbed and the remaining liquid is creamy. Turn off heat and add the grated cheese and the last bit of butter, stirring until the butter melts and the cheese is well incorporated. Check seasoning and add salt and black pepper to taste if needed.

MATCHING WINE: A fine, affordable Austrian white, Loimer 2006 "Lois" Kamptal Grüner Veltliner, made an outstanding match with the mixed vegetables in this risotto; a Sauvignon Blanc would offer another inviting approach.

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