Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Part 12 of Italian (Polenta & Risotto) Cooking

This will be the last segment of "Italian Cooking" although I will continue to publish more Italian recipes.  But with this one I've pretty much covered the basics of Italian cooking.  Remember you can always go back to the other eleven, as well as this one, anytime you think you need to be refreshed on some aspect.

Showing off Grandpa Shirt
Before I start I need to tell on my blog assistant.  We (my wife, granddaughter, myself) went to a neighborhood pot luck a couple of weeks ago.  I took my "Lasagna" recipe from the cookbook and the Garlic Bread (V) recipe from this blog.  Nora (blog asst./granddaughter) wouldn't eat anything until she had devoured 2 slices of the garlic bread.  I think she is just buttering up grandpa for something special.  I'm going to have to watch that one.  She's learning how to get the best of me.  She was wearing a new shirt for grandpa.  It said "My Heart Belongs To Grandpa" and mine to her.

Let's start with "Polenta" which is a product of Northern Italy.  It came about after the new world was discovered and corn was introduced to Italy.  Polenta use to be made with other grains but corn became king I believe because of taste.  In making polenta, you can use water, stock (beef, chicken, vegetable), milk or some combination of them.  You could even try using wine.  One of the keys is to cook it slowly over medium-low heat and stir so it doesn't become lumpy on you.  You can buy quick cooking polenta.  But like grits (Southern USA dish), you are much better off not.

Polenta is a very versatile ingredient.  It can be used for sweet dishes as well as the savory.  It can be a 1st course dish, a vegetable dish, a main course or even a dessert.  I mention in the recipe tomorrow "Basic Polenta" that it is made stove-top to start.  However, you can then take the polenta and roll it out to about a 1/2 inch thickness and cut it into wedges, circles or any shape you desire.  It can then be deep-fried, pan-fried, broiled or baked.  So be sure to give it a try.

"Risotto" is also a product of Northern Italy.  My Italian is minimal but riso means rice.  Risotto is a creamy rich rice dish.  You could do a basic risotto but nobody does.  Risotto always has some other ingredient to enhance it.  You will see many risotto dishes with asparagus, mushrooms or shrimp.  Many other ingredients can be as well.  This week's recipe uses shrimp ("Risotto with Shrimp"- Thursday).

As with polenta, risotto is best cooked slow.  You keep adding liquid to the rice as you stir and let it be absorbed.  Never add more than one ladle at a time to the pan.  This process of first sauteing the rice and then slowly adding the liquid is what makes it so creamy.  Your liquid can be water but other liquids grow the flavor better.  Try using stocks (beef, chicken, vegetable, etc.) or wine or a combination.  It is best to stay away from milk when cooking risotto.

Leftover risotto is good for other uses.  A favorite one is to take risotto and press it around a piece of mozzarella cheese, coat it with fine bread crumbs and deep-fry it.  It makes a great snack or appetizer.

I hope this has given you a better idea of polenta and risotto dishes.  That they are now familiar enough to want to try.  Enjoy and "Happy Cooking" until next week.

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