Cauliflower Risotto and Other Inspiration

Post by: Kim

Ordering out is way too easy in this city.  I am well versed in those culinary philosophies which specify that greasy takeout Chinese food is the exception to the “made by humans” rule and have wholeheartedly bought into the idea that our kitchens are where the vast majority of our meals should begin.  But then, after a long day at work, that loathsome stack of menus stashed away in the kitchen drawer still has a powerful appeal.  I will admit that I’m fairly easily persuaded to order out after a stressful day at work, but combine this preexisting weakness with several nights of failed meals and I quickly loose all resolve to maintain good cooking habits (sorry, Mr. Pollan).  Over the last few weeks, there have been several botched recipes, pasta ruined by a generous sprinkling of mildly rancid parmesan from the corner store, the little white worms that infested what I thought to be a pristine bunch of broccoli rabe, and the untouched apples awaiting cooking and canning as I’ve been nervously studying my Ball Book of Canning and fretting about acidity.  Meanwhile, my list of culinary to-dos has been steadily growing.  I just haven’t been quite ready to initiate that conversation with my kitchen again. 


While I’ve found some particularly persuasive motivators for getting back in the kitchen recently (the cooler weather, Dorie Greenspan’s blog archives, dreaming of taking that ballsy step of purchasing a whole box of tomatoes at the famers market and canning my own tomato soup, and imagining that one day I could have the kitchen of Paule Caillat), the biggest turning point in any culinary funk is probably just to muster the confidence to cook a really delicious meal.  Something you’ve made a thousand times before will do so long as it never fails to satisfy.  So tonight, with takeout menus safely hidden away, I fell back on an old favorite, one of the recipes that I had been so proud to master but which, although intimidating, was actually astoundingly simple.  I really don’t remember where I first found the recipe for cauliflower risotto but I’ve made the stuff so many times that the motions are almost automatic.  The original version called for sautéing the cauliflower but I am completely devoted to the taste and texture of roasting which lends a deeper, more complex flavor to the rice.  You can also add some toasted sliced almonds over the top of this dish if you can find them. 


Roasted Cauliflower Risotto

For the cauliflower:

One large head cauliflower, cut into small florets

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the risotto:

5 cups vegetable of chicken broth

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups Arborio rice (or any other short-grained white rice)

1 ½ teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

3 tablespoons butter

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Spread the cauliflower florets on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Sprinkle with a generous amount of salt (about ¾ teaspoon) and pepper).  Toss gently to coat.  Roast the cauliflower in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, depending on the size of your florets.  Be sure to turn the cauliflower half way through roasting. 

Meanwhile, fill a medium pot with the broth and a liter or so* of water and bring to a boil over high heat.  You can also use bullion here if you can’t find decent broth but be sure not to add too much salt when seasoning the cooked rice or the flavor can be overwhelming.  When the water and broth begin to simmer, add 4 tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet or pot.  Sautee the onion until translucent then add the minced garlic and cook for about a minute more, or until the garlic becomes fragrant.  Add the two cups of uncooked rice directly to the onions and garlic.  Stir well to incorporate and cook for several minutes until the rice loses some of its shine.  This means the rice has begun to absorb the oil.  By this point, your broth and water should be at a rolling boil.  Pour about 2 cups of boiling liquid into the rice and stir frequently.  When the rice has almost fully absorbed the liquid, add another two cups and repeat the process until the rice is almost al dente (it should stick to your teeth when tasting).  Still adding liquid as needed, add 3 tablespoons butter, salt, pepper, and the hot pepper flakes.  Check your cauliflower; it should be lightly browned on the bottom and at the tips and yielding but not mushy when gently squeezed.  Add the roasted cauliflower to the rice with about half of a cup of the broth/water and stir well.  Cook until the rice is no longer chewy but still firm, about 5 minutes.  Your rice should have darkened considerably from the browned bits of cauliflower.  Stir in the cheese and taste.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  If the rice seems too sticky or stiff, add another half cup of the broth mixture. 

*If at any point during the cooking process you find you are running out of liquid, add about 3 or 4 cups of the broth mixture to the rice at once and bring more water to a boil in the time it takes for the rice to absorb the extra liquid.

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