Friday, February 15, 2008

CSA week eleven - mushroom faux-risotto

As I mentioned at the beginning of the week, despite having risotto rice available, I was of a mind to use Israeli couscous instead. It's rather easier to make (although real risotto isn't nearly as hard as it's made out to be) and it turned out poorly the first time I talked it up so I wanted to have another post with a successful use. And I'm pretty happy with how it turned out so on we go.

I started by slicing up half of the fresh shiitakes in this week's share, and equal amount of cremini mushrooms and half of the spring onion (the left half as I wanted both the white and the green bits). I also soaked a handful of dried mushrooms; since I was going downscale I didn't bother with the good stuff and just used some of my ever-growing collection of dried creminis. The nice thing about storing mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator is that they never go bad, they just dry out. Unfortunately they do so fairly rapidly so I end up transferring them to my pantry and buying a new batch of fresh mushrooms to start again. Dried creminis have a more intense flavor and a chewier texture than the fresh so they are worth keeping around as an addition ingredient option. Plus, you can infuse flavors in the soaking water (in this case I used a couple teaspoons of dried thyme) and use the soaking water as a substitute for broth. When all that was ready I gave it a sweat in butter and olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper over medium heat until everything was reduced in volume by half and nicely tender. I removed the mushroom mix to a bowl.

I added a bit more olive oil to the pan and briefly fried some chopped ham and pork (the sliced stuff for Cuban sandwiches). Again, since I wasn't doing a fancy real risotto here I didn't feel the need to go out and buy some prosciutto. Actually, I'll bet there's a good source of serrano ham in town somewhere. If any of you know, please post it in a comment. I used a couple slices of ham and a couple slices of pork which was probably a bit much. Once that had a bit of moisture drawn out and a little color I added it to the bowl with the mushrooms.

Then I wilted the turnip leaves and added them to the pile. Why not? I mixed everything together (adjusting the salt and pepper to taste) and added a shot of soy sauce to intensify the flavor of the mushrooms.

I heated a Tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and added a cup of Israeli couscous. I toasted the couscous over medium high heat for five minutes, stirring frequently, to get it a nice golden brown. This gives a lot of toasty/nutty flavor to the final dish so don't skip this step. You can do the same thing with pasta, too. Give it a try.

Next, I added a cup and a half of mixed chicken broth and mushroom soaking liquid. I had a bit over a cup of leftover chicken broth in the refrigerator but the ratio isn't important; use whatever you've got handy. Remember to strain the soaking liquid as it gets gritty. Brought it back to a boil, covered, turned down the heat to medium low and simmered for ten minutes stirring occasionally.

At this point the couscous should be just about done: tender and chewy and most of the liquid absorbed. I turned off the heat, added the mushroom mix, a handful of grated Parmesan and a quarter cup or so of some soft mild melty cheese. (I had caciotta al tartufo on hand but whatever you've got will work so long as it's mild or particularly good with ham and mushrooms), put the cover back on and waited five minutes. Then I gave it a stir to distribute the melted cheese, checked the seasonings, and served with a glass of white wine and I suppose a green salad would compliment it if you were in to that sort of thing.

In retrospect, I would have liked another quarter cup or so of broth to make a creamier sauce, but otherwise it turned out beautifully. The couscous was perfectly done much more easily than rice would have been and with less fuss, too. The rest was done no differently than I would have done a real risotto (the mushrooms get mushy if you leave them in while the rice cooks). I don't think the turnip greens added much, but they weren't a problem either. While the sauce unified the whole, each of the components got to keep its individual flavors and textures. The mushroom and toasted couscous flavors dominate with the pork supporting and the cheese mainly supplies texture. All around pretty easy and tasty.

Addendum: A point in couscous' favor is that it doesn't go all chalky and mushy when you freeze it like risotto does. I just defrosted a saved batch and the texture is indistinguishable from fresh. Since I freeze lunches to bring in to work, I really need to start making this more often.

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