I tend to daydream in risotto. Not only is it the ultimate one pot meal (or elegant starter), it is also a blank canvas - whatever you add to it becomes an integral part of the whole -with each stir, the ingredients melt into the very essence of the dish. Well, that and my husband is also allergic to gluten and who wants to daydream, much less eat alone?
I started thinking about a risotto made with vinegar instead of wine for depth of flavor. I chose balsamic because I thought it would mellow enough as it cooked (over low heat- barely a bubble) and I would be able to enhance and contrast its natural sweet and tart flavors. I usually add vegetables to my risotto but this time thought grapes might pair nicely; one trip to the market reminded me that grapes are not quite ready yet, which led me to the bulk bins. There I found beautiful grape sized prima black raisins and decided to try them. I am not a huge raisin fan but thought that their large size would provide a meaty bite and the cooking process would also plump them up. Wanting to keep the flavor profile relatively simple, I decided to pair onions with the raisins and although I had never made them before, thought to try crispy shallots mostly for texture. I may add crispy shallots to everything I eat from now on! They are ridiculously easy to make and add an addictive texture and rich oniony flavor. To contrast all of the dark flavors, I knew I wanted something green and herby. Inspired by an intoxicating whiff of a client's beautiful sage plant earlier this week, my mind was set on using sage, even though I do not often reach for it. I was pleasantly surprised with a taste of my first batch ~ everything was playing well together ~ the raisins a welcome sweetness, sage an earthy green element, and the balsamic, mellowed, but maybe still a touch too acidic. A few edits, including a good umami suggestion from hardlikearmour (thank you Sara!) and a healthy dose of mascarpone, tied everything together for a delicious, though maybe unusual flavor combination. I cannot wait to make it again. —gingerroot
4 as a first course or 2 as a main dish
For crispy shallots and sage
1 1/2 tablespoon(s) canola oil
1 shallot clove, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise (yield ¼ cup sliced)
4 sage leaves
Salt for sprinkling
3 ½ cups homemade chicken stock (can substitute low sodium)
½ cup water
2 tablespoon(s) unsalted butter
½ cup finely chopped onion (about ½ small onion)
1 anchovy fillet (I used oil packed)
1 cup Arborio rice
2 tablespoon(s) dry vermouth
3 1/2 tablespoon(s) balsamic vinegar (since we're cooking with it, use a good quality one but not your top shelf stuff)
1/3 cup Prima black raisins (they are a jumbo variety)
3 large sage leaves, cut into a chiffonade then finely chopped (yield scant 1 T)
Heat oil over medium high in a small skillet; when hot, add shallots and sage leaves and cook, stirring constantly until shallots are golden brown, about 5-7 minutes. Keep an eye on them because they go from golden brown to dark brown burnt very quickly.
Remove them in batches to a paper towel lined plate as soon as they are ready. Remove sage leaves when they are crisp and a few shades darker. Sprinkle shallots and sage with salt. They will crisp up as they cool.
In a small saucepan, combine chicken stock and water and heat up over medium. Once stock begins to steam, cover pan and lower heat to keep stock warm.
Heat butter in a Dutch oven or similar pan over medium heat; once butter melts, add onions, anchovy, and cook, breaking up anchovy with your spoon. Cook and stir until mixture is fragrant (to me it smelled like mushrooms) about 2 minutes. Turn stove down a notch. Add rice and stir to coat, about a minute, until opaque. Add vermouth and cook, stirring, until most has evaporated. Add balsamic and then raisins and cook, stirring, about a minute.
Ladle about ½ - ¾ cup of the warmed stock into rice mixture, constantly stirring, until almost all the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Continue adding remaining broth, one ladleful at a time, allowing rice to absorb liquid each time before adding more. Rice mixture should be b-a-r-e-l-y simmering throughout additions. After 25 minutes, taste the rice. You want the finished rice to be slightly firm, with a bite (not mushy), but creamy. If the rice is tender, remove from heat. If rice needs a minute more, by all means, cook it a minute more, adding a bit more liquid if necessary.
Off heat, stir in chopped sage and mascarpone. Risotto should come together and be very creamy. Serve immediately into wide shallow bowls and top with reserved crispy shallots and a reserved crispy sage leaf. Enjoy!
My most vivid childhood memories have to do with family and food. As a kid, I had the good fortune of having a mom who always encouraged trying new things, and two grandmothers who invited me into their kitchens at a young age. I enjoy cooking for the joy it brings me - sharing food with loved ones - and as a stress release. I turn to it equally during good times and bad. Now that I have two young children, I try to be conscientious about what we cook and eat. Right about the time I joined food52, I planted my first raised bed garden and joined a CSA; between the two I try to cook as sustainably and organically as I can. Although I'm usually cooking alone, my children are my favorite kitchen companions and I love cooking with them. I hope when they are grown they will look back fondly at our time spent in the kitchen, as they teach their loved ones about food-love.
Best of all, after years on the mainland for college and graduate school, I get to eat and cook and raise my children in my hometown of Honolulu, HI. When I'm not cooking, I am helping others grow their own organic food or teaching schoolchildren about art.