Risotto making is a passion couched in a somewhat stringent tradition. Risotto is rice, often Arborio or Carnaroli, stirred fervidly yet gracefully, until shimmering and creamy. Hard, oblong pebbles, white and dusty, cooked in liquor and broth simmer slowly to reveal a thick, tender and silken porridge.
A few days ago I had a tenacious hunger for risotto, minus the rich starchiness of the real thing. Brown rice, cooked slowly and scrupulously using the gently painstaking risotto method, yields a much healthier version with a less creamy texture and more bite to each grain of rice. The brown rice remains firm through the process and retains its pleasantly light snap. To compensate for the lack of natural lusciousness, I added Greek yogurt to finish.
An elegantly rustic version of a classic, updated; a marriage of ground and sky. I pepper the nutty rice with lightly toasted sunflower seeds. A scattering of grassy parsley, verdant baby spinach and sprightly lemon zest weave the flavors together; the unctuously creamy, tart yogurt and salty parmesan crystals hug the al dente grains like a downy blanket.
Leeks, deep fried until lightly golden and delicately brittle, are nestled atop. They add a statuesque presence and omit a sweetly mild oniony flavor.
A very untraditional “risotto” brings new flavors and textures to the table. And reminds us that rules are meant to be broken.
Brown Rice “Risotto” with Wilted Greens and Crispy Fried Leeks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup finely minced shallots (about 2 medium shallots)
2 cups short grain brown rice, unrinsed
1 cup white wine
1 quart chicken stock
1 quart vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups tightly packed baby spinach, finely chopped
Zest of one lemon
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds (optional)
1 whole leek, sliced crosswise into 3-4 inch pieces and julienned
2 tablespoons flour
Vegetable oil for frying the leeks
1. Bring stock to a simmer in large pot over medium heat. Turn heat to medium-low and cover to keep warm.
2. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add garlic and shallot and cook for about 4 minutes or until softened.
3. Add rice and cook, stirring, until grains are well coated in oil and butter and lightly toasted, about 4 minutes. Don’t let the rice turn burn.
4. Stir in wine and cook until completely absorbed. Add two ladles of hot stock and stir occasionally until the liquid absorbs. Adjust the heat if the rice boils. You want to maintain a light simmer. When the rice appears almost dry, add another ladle or two of stock and repeat the process until the rice is cooked, about 50 minutes total, stirring frequently. If you run out of stock, begin adding ladles of water.
5. Remove rice from the heat and stir in lemon zest, chopped spinach, Parmigiano Reggiano and salt and pepper to taste. Add 1/4 cup yogurt.
6. While the rice is cooking, heat a small saucepan over high heat. Toast sunflower seeds in dry pan until they omit a nutty aroma and are lightly golden. Turn off heat and pour into a small bowl and set aside to cool.
7. Just before the rice is finished, coat the leeks in flour. Heat about 1 inch of oil in a small saucepan until smoking. Fry leeks in 4 batches until just golden, about 30-50 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer leeks to paper towel lined plate.
8. Just before serving risotto, add remaining 3 tablespoons yogurt and if needed, a few tablespoons of remaining broth or water. Stir in sunflower seeds, or alternatively, sprinkle on top. Pile on leeks and serve.
Yield: Serves 4 as a main course and 6 as a side or small first course.