6 September 2015

Shifting Gears with Corn Risotto

Corn Risotto. The end of summer…I think not

I woke up this morning feeling the need to wrap myself in a cosy, warm blanket. Refreshingly cooler nights are a welcome seasonal change. Day time high temperatures are still lingering but one day soon these lazy days of summer will be only a distant memory.  Summer is nice but it is often too hot to cook or even to eat so I long for our farmers markets to be overflowing with pumpkins, apples, corn, and squash. As the cool morning air is nipping at our noses this invasion of our senses means the resurrection of comfort foods in my kitchen. I easily switch gears and can hardly control myself from jumping right into pumpkin and apple recipes with the beginning of my favourite season. You will be inundated with pumpkin and apple recipes on these pages soon enough.

Handed down from generation to generation on stained recipe cards and in tattered notebooks, comfort foods are staples for anyone wanting a hearty meal and a little taste of home. They tend to be familiar foods that remind us of simpler times. The gastronomic version of a warm sweater or a kiss on the forehead. While an oven baked meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, cheesy macaroni, or a steaming cinnamon infused apple pie are cold weather reminders for many of us, for some of us comfort food may include a delicious gooey lasagna, a complex curry, earthy borscht or udon noodles. No matter what evokes these feelings of comfort in each of us an ideal comfort food should "stick to the ribs," meaning it supplies a sense of fullness and satisfaction long after it is only just a memory. It is not uncommon in early fall for my home to be filled with warm, fragrant and earthy aromas of a slow cooked roast or bubbling crock pot, but, there is absolutely nothing as simple and as comforting to a "wanna be" Italian than a hearty dish of risotto. 

Italians have been growing rice for a very long time. It was introduced to Italy by the Arabs who dominated Sicily and parts of the Southern mainland in the late Middle Ages, but, proved best suited to the vast marshy regions of the Po Valley. Here it was enthusiastically adopted by the residents of the Veneto region, Lombardia and Piemonte. 

Risotto done right is absolutely sublime! Rich and luxurious with just a touch of toothsomeness.  Despite its reputation for being fussy or time-intensive, it’s actually much easier to prepare than you might think, and is extraordinarily versatile. While you do need to attend to the pot while you’re making risotto it is a labour of love and the time invested in making risotto is time well spent. All you need are a few choice ingredients and a little time  and you’ll have a pot of creamy risotto that an Italian nonna would be proud of. Making a good risotto is like riding a bicycle. You need to learn how to do it in the beginning and it requires a certain amount of concentration thereafter. 

There are many risotto recipes that suit a myriad of taste buds and we love this great Italian dish in all its seasonal disguises. Although risotto is a very simple dish to make there are some very important factors to avoid disappointment: 

First of all it goes without saying that the quality of your ingredients is very important to the outcome of your dish. Our Italian nonna would have plucked fresh ingredients from her garden and into the pot.

Choosing your rice wisely is of great importance also. Choose short-grained round or semi-round rice.  Among the best rices for making risotto are Arborio, Vialone Nano, and Carnaroli. I have a special affinity to Carnaroli myself. Other short-grained rices such as Originario will also work. Long grained rice such as Patna will not, because the grains will stay separate. Nor should you use Minute Rice. I know how your mind works. Smile.

Ideally make sure that your ingredients are at room temperature such as the wine and the butter. Nothing should allow the risotto to cool down during the cooking process for premium results.

Bring the broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat so the broth remains steaming, but is not simmering. Adding chilly stock to a hot pan will cool everything down and mess up the cooking process. Everything needs to remain hot so it cooks evenly.

Despite what you have been told, don't be a slave to the stove. Stirring the rice constantly will add air into the risotto, cooling it down and giving your dish an undesirable gluey texture (as will using too wide of a pan). But if you don’t stir enough, the rice will stick to the bottom and burn. Agitating the rice is important, because risotto’s creaminess comes from the starch generated when grains of rice rub against each other. So stir it often, but feel free to give your arms (and the rice) a break. I'm strongly convinced that the myth of constant stirring only exists because nonna used risotto as an excuse to either keep an unnecessary kitchen helper occupied for half an hour, or as an excuse to escape from the rest of the family for a while. Risotto is very sensitive to timing but with a little know how you can make this easy, peasy dish perfectly over and over again. 

Risotto is one of Italy's true comfort foods. For several weeks I have been dreaming of a creamy local artichoke risotto enjoyed with a sip of wine and engaging company on the patio of my good friend Dina of Olive Oil and Lemons. I played hooky from work in the middle of the day and attended a casual Italian language class from local entrepreneur Gian Marco Litrico of The Olive Oil Merchant in Dina's outdoor kitchen. At each class they make seasonal risotto or pizza while sipping local wines, dreaming of Italy, and practising their Italian. What better way to learn than to immerse yourself in the language. It's the closest you can get to Italy without jumping on a plane.

Since my head is in the clouds of Italy this week making risotto seemed like the perfect muse. After a busy work week a little kitchen therapy was in order with this creamy, pale yellow corn risotto. It is based on a recipe I found in the New York Times, but as always I changed it up and made it my own. Studded with chewy fresh corn kernels, it makes for a nice mix of textures. Making your own corn broth deepens the flavour of this dish, but if you do not have the time, chicken broth or vegetable broth will work just as well. The dish is also pleasingly light for a risotto. The dish is finished off of the stove by folding in the finely grated Parmesan cheese and incorporating a dollop of butter that adds richness without adding heft. 

I think we all deserve a warm, comforting dish. The rich flavours and warming textures of this dish evokes memories of pure happiness. There's something very satisfying about making recipes from scratch in your own kitchen from start to finish; and using up all those bits and pieces in the refrigerator is just another bonus. What I love about risotto is that you can take a simple, basic recipe and create a fulfilling dish with whatever is in season. "Figliuole e frittelle, quante piu se ne fa, piu vegon belle (Children and fried food, the more you make the better they come out….or practice makes perfect)!

**Corn Risotto** 

Corn Broth (Optional since you can also use chicken broth)

2 corn cobs (kernels removed and reserved for risotto)
1 onion, cut into quarters
1 carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 celery rib, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
 Dark green leaves from 1 leek (reserve white and light green parts for risotto)
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns


2 - 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 leek, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt (depending on how salty your broth is)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup Carnaroli rice
½ cup dry white wine
6 cups hot corn broth or chicken broth
1 ½ cups raw corn kernels (from about 2 ears corn)
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced chives (optional)

For the Broth: (If you are using chicken or vegetable broth omit this step). Combine all broth ingredients with 6 cups water in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat so liquid is simmering; cover pot and let simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. In a small saucepan add enough water to bring liquid up to 6 cups and simmer. 

For the risotto: Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a wide, high-sided sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add chopped leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add rice and stir to coat, Cook, stirring, until grains look slightly translucent.

Pour in wine and cook, stirring, until it has all been absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Add a ladleful of hot corn broth to the rice mixture and cook, stirring frequently until rice has absorbed all of the broth.  If you dump in the stock all at once, you’re just boiling rice. By slowly adding stock, you allow the rice to bump up against each other, creating that creamy starch. Continue to cook on medium-low, adding broth in 1/2-cup increments whenever rice mixture looks dry. Wait until the rice absorbs all the stock to add some more. 

When half of the broth has been added, stir in the corn kernels. At this point it would be wise to taste a kernel of rice to see how well it is cooked. Continue cooking until all of the broth is incorporated, corn is tender and rice is creamy and tender, about 30 to 40 minutes total. You may not use all of the broth so check your rice to make sure it is not overcooked. Like pasta, the rice should be al dente–just cooked, with a little bite to it. If you can mold a risotto into a shape (yes, like some restaurants do) you’ve cooked it too much. Risotto should have body, but not be overly mushy and starchy. You’re not making rice pudding!

Remove risotto from heat and stir in Parmesan and remaining tablespoon or so of butter
 ( I always add a little more). Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with chives and serve.

Serves 4 as a main

For other risotto recipes look no further.

Fresh Herb and Pea Risotto
Risotto with Buffalo Mozzarella, Roasted Tomatoes and Basil Oil
Roasted Pumpkin Risotto Cakes with Tomato Sauce
Butternut Squash Risotto
Peppery Arugula Risotto and Encore Ricotta Cakes
Greek Style Vegetable Risotto
Zucchini Risotto With Saffron and Shrimp
Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash
Risotto alla Putanesca
Spring Lemon Risotto with Asparagus, Fiddlehead Ferns and Young Garlic
Patricia Wells Seared Proscuitto Wrapped Cod on a Bed of Lemon Risotto
Chestnut Risotto
Greek Style Grill Pan Rack of Lamb with Artichoke Feta Risotto
Crispy Salmon with Risotto and Slow Roasted Tomatoes
Herb Crusted Paneer with Indian Risotto
Chicken Rolls with Oka and Thyme with Wild Rice and Spring Mushroom Risotto

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.

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  1. This risotto is seriously stunning!!


  2. Your risotto sounds delicious and it is so well prepared. I must give it a try.

  3. Your corn risotto looks warm and comforting. I've always been a bit afraid of making risotto. But I do believe you've written the best information I've ever seen on risotto and how to make it properly. Thank you Val.

  4. Lovely post Val and a good use of end-of-season corn. That afternoon on my patio still lingers in my memory as one of those moments when the stars were aligned. So glad you were able to be there. Let's do it again.

  5. I'm so jealous of your cool nights! It was almost 100 degrees here today, so I'm sitting on the couch in as few clothes as possible eating frozen yogurt!

  6. I just love receiving your blogs, Val! And as a risotto affectionado, I can't wait to make this recipe. You and I need to collaborate when my second book comes out; it's back to Tropea as well as beautiful Taormina on Sicily. Thanks so much for sharing your love of writing and great food!

  7. Elegant way to use summer corn, your risotto looks carefully cooked.


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