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The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

In my efforts to catch up with The Daring Bakers’ and The Daring Cooks’ challenges that I’ve missed, I bring you the March 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge: risotto.

Rice is a major comfort food for me. There are a number of rice dishes that I associate with meals made for me as a child by my grandmother and by my mother.

Case-in-point: I can get all misty eyed if I start to think about rice with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano, which was a staple of my growing years.

While I have made risotto many, many times, it’s always a pleasure to make it again so I was pleased to see that Eleanor and Jess had chosen it as the challenge for March 2010.

While risotto is quite basic to make, it’s surprisingly easy to mess up, especially if you overcook it. A beautiful risotto can very quickly turn into a pasty and clumpy mess if you’re not careful.

But as long as you watch (patiently) over your risotto and as long as you use a flavourful cooking liqued (i.e., homemade broth), risotto is a dish that once mastered, will provide endless opportunities for new combinations.

The first part of this challenge was to make a homemade chicken broth, which is my cooking liquid of choice when it comes to risotto.

I mean this in the humblest sense but I could probably make chicken broth with my eyes closed. It is one of the very first things that my mother taught me to cook (right after tomato sauce) and I’ve probably been making it since I was about 12 or 13.

Chicken broth (brodo di pollo in Italian), has been a weekly dinner for us and for most members of my family. Typically, we will make a chicken broth and then serve the boiled chicken meat as the main course. I have many fond memories of my parents generously leaving the chicken neck aside so I could happily suck on it as a child. That’s love, people!

I could go on and on about chicken broth but suffice to say that homemade is a million times better than anything you can buy in the store (organic or not). In addition, homemade chicken broth opens the gateway to about a million other dishes that you can prepare. It’s a staple of cooking, cheap to make and, I am convinced, has restorative and therapeutic properties. A bowl of chicken soup is like a liquid hug.

After cooking up a batch of broth, I decided to make the risotto with a very simple and clean flavour combination.

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As my risotto was about partway cooked, I added some tomato puree to add colour and flavour. Just prior to the risotto being done, I mixed in pieces of fresh mozzarella and at the very end I added a handful of fresh basil. I stirred the risotto until the mozzarella began to melt and then served it immediately.

It made for a light and delicious Sunday lunch dish.

The fact is that there are about a million different ways that you can prepare risotto. Once you’ve mastered the art of cooking it slowly, you can’t go wrong.

You can find a copy of the challenge recipe here.

Please do take some time to see what the other Daring Cooks did with their risottos.

Ciao!

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Risotto alla Margherita

Note: Pizza Margherita is a pizza made with tomato, mozzarella and basil. I thought I’d use those same elements to create a risotto. This risotto will serve 4.

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup Arborio rice
4 to 6 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup tomato purée
salt to taste
1/2 cup cubed fresh mozzarella
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
a handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a large and wide pan that you will cook the risott in.

Add the Arborio rice and cook in the oil for a minute or two, stirring constantly. This step will add a nutty flavour the risotto as the grains toast in the olive oil.

Add enough broth to completely cover the risotto by about half an inch. Make sure the heat is on medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice has soaked up most of the broth. The key to risotto is patience. If you cook it too vigourously you will use up all your liquid and the rice grains will still be hard. You also risk burning the rice.

Once most of the liquid has been soaked up, add another cup or of chicken stock/broth. Continue to cook stirring occasionally to ensure that the rice does not stick or burn.

When most of the liquid is absorbed, add another cup or two of stock and proceed as in the step above.

Add the tomato puree and mix well.

Once almost all of the stock is absorbed, taste the rice. If it is cooked (the rice is cooked when it is al dente which means that it’s firm to the bite but soft once you start chewing. If it tastes hard while you’re chewing it, it’s not done), add the Parmigiano Reggiano and mix well. Taste for seasoning. If it’s not salty enough, add some salt.

Remove the risotto from the heat and immediately add the fresh mozzarella. Stir a few times to incorporate and then add the fresh basil. Serve immediately and enjoy!