Saturday, March 28, 2009

Have some respect

The waiter hugged each of us goodbye while the hostess looked on and a man entering the restaurant wondered aloud if everyone got such good treatment. I guess we were lucky to get a waiter who looked like a black Jack Black (he concurred) and shared with us his dreams of acting and tales of his troublesome younger brother. In between the gossip, he recommended our dinner choices (free range Amish roast chicken or roast duck with a side of duck confit rather than the short ribs) and wine selection. He told us about his employee discount - no free meals but at least he never took the food for granted. It seems that when you get it for free you don't have respect for it. The food, that is.

I don't usually write about restaurants but sometimes the food I eat in restaurants inspires my cooking. I can make cheese grits, one of the delicious sides we had (just keep adding butter and cheese and top with olive oil). I can make white chocolate panna cotta, one of the free desserts we had (did I mention that the waiter loved us?). I can make a risotto cake, one of the appetizers we had.

Okay, I'll admit that the risotto cake in the restaurant was fat and moist on the inside, not flat and a tad dry like mine. It was topped with a salad with a noticeable but light dressing and some plump grilled shrimp. I topped mine with shredded leftover Amish chicken.

Let's not forget that making risotto cakes is a two step process. See, you first have to make the risotto. Get a little Arborio rice, some shallots and garlic together in a pan, and fry up about five or six slices of pancetta in there too. Remove the pancetta and let it drain on paper towels. Once the rice has rolled around in the fat and flavoring for a bit, add a splash of wine. Cooking wine works just fine, but I usually have a bottle of something that was never finished sitting around. Now you're ready to start adding the hot broth. Sometimes I get this far before I realize I don't have any broth, much less hot broth. But this time I was prepared and had already dissolved a hearty bouillon cube in water in a pan on the burner next to my risotto pan. Now start scooping quarter cups of broth into the pan and let the rice absorb them. Do this slowly. It could take 20-25 minutes. Keep stirring. Drink some of the wine. Unless it's cooking wine, then don't drink it for god's sake. When the rice is creamy and cooked through - I always taste a few pieces and find them undercooked when I'm out of broth but just add some water at this point - then you can stir in the peas and the crumbled pancetta. Add some grated parmesan, salt and pepper.

Now here's the really important step: Don't eat all of the risotto. You may think this is obvious, but I'm telling you, you will want to eat it all and then what is left for risotto cakes? Nothing. You'll have to start over.

Save some of that risotto for tomorrow because you don't want to make the risotto cakes now, you're too busy eating risotto. When you're ready to make them, just mix in some beaten egg and cornmeal. I had a little trouble getting my risotto to stick together but I just flattened it down into the frying pan and once it started frying, it stuck together just fine. If you can make a pancake you can make a risotto cake.

I think they turned out cute and tasty, but I would never take a risotto cake for granted. Because when you make it yourself, you have even more respect for the food.

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