Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Frugal Foods - Risotto

Because I was gone all of last week, I did my best to eat up as much of my perishable groceries as I could before I left. That meant there was very little spoiling. However, it also meant that when I got back in on Saturday, there was no food in the house. After poking through the cupboards and freezer for awhile, I decided to make one of my favorite frugal meals - risotto. Risotto is an incredibly frugal dish that tastes really expensive, but can be made with basic items I always have in the house. Essentially what you need is: oil (or butter), risotto rice (Aborio), and something to add to it - veggies, meat and/or cheese.

The Aborio rice is the only expensive part of the equation. Around here 16 oz. usually runs me between $6-$7. However, since I get 4 good sized servings out of just one cup of rice, (and it reheats beautifully - oftentimes even better on the second day) I can really get my money's worth out of a bag. Plus, the rice is something I can keep on hand for whenever I need it, I don't have to worry about it going bad. Risotto isn't exactly the healthiest of meals (though you can adjust for some of that) and it certainly isn't fast, but if you are looking for a filling, delicious dish you can make with whatever is in your cupboards - risotto is the way to go.

Here's how I make mine...

What you need:

1 Tablespoon of oil/butter (this can be olive oil, butter, margarine, vegetable oil, or pretty much whatever you cook in)

1 cup of Aborio rice

5-6 cups of liquid (Broth, wine, etc.)

3-4 large-ish handfuls of "stuff" (Veggies, meat, and so on)

See why this recipe is so forgiving?

To prepare:

If I have an onion in the house, the first thing I do is chop it up and saute' it in the oil/butter until it is translucent. Don't have an onion? Celery is a good substitute. So are shallots. Have just one stalk of celery, a half of onion, a shallot and a garlic clove? Use that! If I don't have any of them, I skip this step completely and just warm the oil.

Next I add the cup of rice. Stir frequently until the grains are coated in oil. It will just take a minute or two. Then I add the liquid.

Now, a word about the liquid - You need quite a bit of it. Most recipes I have seen call for a combination of stock and something else - usually wine or cream. I usually stay away from using cream to avoid calories, but I've done it and it is mighty tasty. The ratio is usually 4-5 cups of stock and 1 cup of other liquid.

I always have stock in the house, since I make my own in large batches and freeze it. You can use chicken stock, beef broth or vegetable stock. If I have a cup of white wine in the house, I'll use that for one of the cups, however, most often I just use all stock. (You can use red wine too, but it will color your rice red.) Another trick is to save the water when you rehydrate dried mushrooms or sun dried tomatoes. I like to throw it in a little container and keep it in the freezer. Just make sure you strain it first - especially the water from mushrooms, as it will have grit in the bottom. Another option is if you are going to add tomatoes to your risotto, use the juice drained from the cans as some of your liquid. Just remember, whatever liquid you use, that will be the flavor of the rice. This weekend I used 3 cups of homemade chicken stock, 2 cups of vegetable, and 1 cup of mushroom water from rehydrated dried porcini mushrooms, all out of my freezer.

Put all of your liquid in a small sauce pan on another burner and cook on medium low. I throw my tupperware containers of frozen broth in the microwave for 30 second then pop the frozen broth into the pan and warm it up that way. If the liquid is warm, it absorbs easier into the rice. When your liquid is warm and your rice is nice and shiny and coated with oil/butter, you are ready to start mixing the two together.

Add one cup of liquid to the rice, stir and allow to cook on medium heat until the liquid is absorbed. Now, seriously, here is the trick to a great risotto - you cannot rush this next step. In total, risotto will take about an hour to cook. If you rush it your rice will be crunchy and undercooked and not fabulous creamy goodness. Personally, I usually have to walk away. I like to have things to do - otherwise I stand over the pot and over-stir and rush the absorption process by turning up the heat too high. This weekend I occupied myself by sorting mail and cleaning the kitchen. Every couple of minutes, check the rice. When you stir it and most of the liquid is gone, then it is time to add another cup. ...then walk away again.

You will do this until all the liquid has been absorbed into the rice and the grains are fat and creamy looking. Now, this is when I add "everything else." Everything else is what makes this dish a frugal person's delight. I usually use 2-3 additional ingredients plus some cheese, if I have it. This weekend I had two leftover frozen turkey sausages which I chopped up, a cup and a half of frozen peas and about 3/4 of a cup of walnuts. Seriously though, you can use anything that appeals to you - that is why this is the perfect dish to use up little leftovers: cooked chicken, frozen veggies, fresh herbs, mushrooms, green onions, canned tomatoes, chopped nuts... whatever you have! I made a fabulous risotto with leftover chicken, pistachios and dried cranberries once. I have a friend (and great home chef) who made one using champagne as part of her liquid and asparagus. (She made that a couple years ago, and it still sounds good to me.)

Once the liquid is completely absorbed, I add all the other "stuff" whatever that may be. I stir a few times, then cover and remove from heat and let it sit for 20 minutes. That last 20 minutes is important. I don't always see it in recipes, but from long risotto experience, I can tell you, it makes a huge difference. It not only heats up all the "stuff" you just added, but it also allows the rice and the flavors to meld and to completely finish cooking.

Now for the cheese - I almost always have some kind of cheese in the house and you can use just about anything, although favorites are Parmesan, Fontina, Ramano, Asiago and the like. However, I've also stirred in goat cheese, feta cheese, and Swiss cheese. This last one I made I used about 3/4 of a cup of a combination of Parmesan and Monterey Jack. Obviously, this is where you can really change the calorie content. Use a low fat cheese - or none at all - and lots of fresh veggies and lean protein and you can take some of the evil out of the dish!

Though I don't make it that often, mostly because of the time it takes to cook, I love risottos for how easy they are to make, how can use different ingredients in each one, how wonderfully they reheat and how filling they are. It is great as a side dish or a meal, and I can pack it up and take it into work the next day for lunch.

So, what are your favorite frugal meals?

Photo of fennel risotto by: Rachel is Coconut & Lime


Kari said...

Yummy and Frugal, I like it!!!

Catie said...

You just made me hungry.

My favorite standby is a sorta cajun rice thingie that I invented one day while emptying my fridge. Mine has rice, lowfat sausage, tomatos, lima beans, blackbeans and corn.

In a large pan I saute a package of lowfat sausage(I use Healthy Ones - cheap, with a mild flvor that blends well), sliced (or chicken or shrimp or whatever!). I blacken it just a bit. Then I add 2 cans of tomatos with juice (I like the ones with green chilies) and a can of drained black beans and let them simmer. If you like spicy, sprinkle some cajun seasoning or anything spicy that you have around.

Meanwhile I toss 2 cups of rice in a pot to cook. I also add the limas and toward the end, the corn (both frozen). I usually use more water than the rice cooking recommends to accomodate this, so I have to keep an eye on the rice.

When the rice is done, I spoon it in to the sausage pan, toss it all together and let it simmer for 10 minutes or so to let flavors meld. This is a huge batch, by the way. You may want to cut it in half if you don't want to be eating it all week.

As you can see, you can use pretty much anything. Cilantro, cheddar cheese and lowfat sour cream are all great as toppings.

I have fed this to several friends and it's popular!

Miss M said...

Your right, risotto is another good frugal/leftover dish. I make it about once a month. Do you have trader joes in your neck of the woods? They have an arborio rice that I use for much less than you are paying.

Kemkem said...

Love risotto! One of the advantages of being married to an italian is that he can make something out of anything! Which is a good thing, because l hate cooking with a passion! My fave is the mushroom and asparagus risotto... yummy!

Dawn said...

Kari - Me too!

Catie - I have had that Cajun rice - it is awesome!

Miss M - Sadly, I don't. I do have know people who live by them though and sometimes I can get them to bring me Trader Joe's goodies.

KemKem - Sounds like you have the perfect situation.