Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mad About Saffron (Saffron Risotto)

When we visited my family in Chesapeake for Christmas, of course I was excited to see them... but I was also excited for the chance to visit a Trader Joe's for the first time in six months. My lifeline throughout college, it's decidedly lacking in the Montoursville/Williamsport area. Cackling gleefully to ourselves, we raced around the store grabbing everything we could that didn't require refrigeration, including a surprisingly inexpensive bottle of saffron.

That golden glow

Aside from the song that, thanks to an old Gap ad campaign about lovely singing zombies and its inherent catchiness always gets stuck in my head, I mostly know saffron as "the stuff that makes paella yellow." Now fortified with my own tiny, precious stash, I need to find things to do with it. One can't simply let the world's most expensive spice by weight go to waste.

Precious cargo

It may not be an utterly daring departure from paella, but I decided to start with risotto. The words "saffron rice" leap into my head as word association, so there you go. In keeping with the golden theme, I chose to pair it with some butternut squash. In keeping with my taste buds, I added copious amounts of cheese. Silky smooth, but al dente, with the rich color and aroma only saffron can give, it's great for a cold winter's night.

Some people seem to consider risotto a challenge, but I think it's like falling off a log. Traditionally, it's made with arborio rice and the short-grained starchiness certainly helps achieve the appropriate creamy texture, but I can vouch from experience that the same technique can make pretty much any kind of rice work. I've even made it with prepackaged brown minute rice (quelle horreur!) and had it come out fine. I wouldn't call it labor intensive, but there's a fair amount a lot of stirring involved.

Because you're worth it
Risotto d'Oro (Saffron Risotto)

One last word of precaution: you may wish to save the butternut squash and scatter it across the top after you've blended in the cheese. Otherwise, you'll end up with photos like mine, where the sheer creaminess envelopes the dish to a degree that it will be utterly and irrevocably invisible. Alternatively, if you happen to be of the persuasion to hide vegetables from your children, stir it right in as a stealthy trick. Not exactly health food, though.

12 oz butternut squash, seeded, peeled, and chopped
2 tbs + 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Mayan sweet onion (or Spanish, or yellow)
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 generous pinch saffron (Too much saffron is bitter, but it gives the risotto its rich color and aroma)
32 oz vegetable stock
1 c rice (arborio is best; you may insert "other," but plan for more stock and more time)
4 oz goat cheese
4 oz Parmigiano Reggiano
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 450° F. Toss the squash on a baking sheet with 2 tbs olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pop it into the oven to roast while you prepare the risotto, 30-45 minutes, depending on your preferred level of caramelization.

Proof of vegetables
Set up your base camp by positioning a large skillet or wok on one front burner and a saucepan or skillet of stock on the left. Preheat both burners to medium. Stem the leaves from 3 fresh sprigs of thyme into the warming stock, reserving the others for garnish. Add the saffron and a pinch of kosher salt or sea salt to a mortar and pestle and grind to an orange, fragrant powder. Stir this into the stock.

Strategery, Stradegy, Strategy
Toss the onion and remaining 2 tbs olive oil in the larger skillet, cooking until the onions become translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, 1 minute more. Add the rice to the onion and garlic mixture, and continue to stir until the rice is glistening and faintly translucent, then ever-so-slightly toasted golden with a faint, nutty aroma, about 5 more minutes.

Add the stock, one ladleful at a time, into the rice and stir until absorbed.

Love's Labors Lost
Continue the ladle, stir, ladle, stir process until all the stock is gone. This takes about 30 minutes. Stir in the goat cheese and about half of the Parmigiano Reggiano, reserving the rest for topping. By now the squash should have achieved nirvana and can be added into the mixture, or reserved to sprinkle atop finished bowls.

Now you see 'em
Spoon into individual bowls, topping with the remaining Parmegiano Reggiano and garnish with the remaining sprigs of thyme.

Now you don't!


beti said...

I love saffron but I rarely use it obviously because it is expensive, the color is simply beautiful and you were lucky to find it at an affordable price

J said...

I am very lucky, we have a small amount and I hope to make the most of it. Now that I've done the risotto, though, I need to branch out more. Maybe saffron and lavender cookies for Spring?

Tracy @ Daily Deal Blog said...

Looks like it would taste amazing! I love the simplicity of this recipe.