I have a long standing tradition of welcoming guests with risotto.
It began when I was in my 20′s, and I discovered the magic technique of stirring a pan of creamy rice over an open flame and inviting guests to join in to help with the stirring. Friends from uptown and down in Manhattan would love to be invited and I’d decide the ingredients that day based on what was local and fresh.
Spring risottos were asparagus or green pea, while summer risottos featured shrimp or fresh spinach. Autumn risottos turned bright orange with butternut squash or dark red with mushroom and burgundy wine. Winter risottos became festive, as each New Years brought a creamy champagne risotto or the savory, earthy flavor of winter root vegetables.
My risotto parties moved with me when we got married and bought a farm in Virginia, and I continued to honor close friends and visiting family. My nephews were raised knowing that arriving at Aunt Holli’s meant risotto, and they got to choose their favorite. My son has been raised loving his Mom’s risotto, and my husband circles me still, as I stand at the range, offering to stir.
When I went to nutrition school, and began living and teaching a clean food nutritional style, I had to come to terms with my risotto. I was using a white rice without fiber which contained a salty dairy. It gave me a stomach ache and it eventually conflicted with my Dads’ low sugar diet, as the rice converts to sugar as you digest it.
Many of my friends were now watching their carbs, and it was difficult to make room for all those people in our long, narrow kitchen at our old farmhouse. My welcoming risotto’s became few and far between.
This past month, I realized that although some things are best left alone, and my mushroom and burgundy wine risotto is certainly a great example. I wanted to figure out how to honor my years old tradition, welcome my family and friends, and allow them into the kitchen with me to add their love to the zen of risotto.
Last weekend we welcomed a friend and colleague and a healthy foodie. I decided to try my hand at tweaking my rice to make it healthier, and to use goat cheese, which is more easily assimilated by your body than the parmesan cheese made from cows milk.
I added freshly cooked beets and chopped swiss chard, two late autumn/winter veggies. Instead of arborio rice, known for its starch and therefore creamy texture, I used short grain brown rice, with a bit of long grain wild black rice thrown in, making it a healthier choice.
The results were not only gorgeous, but delicious. I loved the goat cheese flavor, and this vegetarian meal was a well balanced meal in one.
Am I saying goodbye to arborio and parmesan forever? My Italian father , my husband, and my son wouldn’t have it. But it sure is nice to know we have a healthier alternative.
Risotto with beets, chard, and brown and wild rice
2 cup short grain brown rice
2 quart or more vegetable stock
1 bunch collard greens, slivered to 1/2 inch pieces
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1 cup cooked long grain wild rice
1 cup dry white table wine
8 small beets,cooked, skinned and diced
1 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1. Cook black, wild rice according to directions. Roast the beets ahead of time, and slice and dice your greens and onions.
2. Bring vegetable stock to simmer in a saucepan behind your dutch oven or frying pan you’re using for the risotto.
3. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large frying pan or dutch oven and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add brown rice, and stir until rice begins to crackle.
4. Add 3 ladles of broth (which is now warm) and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to add ladles of broth as it cooks down. Do not allow the rice to get too dry, and stir constantly. After about 15 minutes, test rice for bite. If it is al dente, add in the vegetables.
5. Stir in the greens, the diced beets and cooked black wild rice and continue adding more stock, enough to barely cover the rice, and stirring often, for another 10 to 15 minutes. The rice should be chewy but not hard in the middle – and definitely not soft like steamed rice. If it is still hard in the middle, you need to continue adding stock and stirring for another 5 minutes or so.
6. When the rice is cooked through, add your wine and stir. Add in goat cheese and stir. Remove from the heat. The risotto should be creamy; if it isn’t, add a little more stock. Stir once, taste and adjust for seasonings, and add salt and pepper if desired.