Because I love you so much, I am taking a break from Harry to write. This morning my mom called and said "are you busy with Harry Potter? Is that why you aren't writing?" Chastised, I got off the phone and got to work. I have fewer than 300 pages to go, so I'll probably even be back before the day is done.
This dish is, of course, completely inauthentic. Why? Because Italians don't eat sweet corn. I don't have a written source on that subject, but when Husband was in Italy he was informed that sweet corn was "pig food." This apparently doesn't apply to cornmeal. I think it's a sad loss, and I'm grateful that I wound up in the Midwest (okay, I'm really in a Great Lake State, whatever), where sweet corn is a birthright.
Here was the inspiration for this dish: last weekend, at the Food & Ohio Wine Festival at the North Market, I helped serve at a wine tasting. The chef was Johnny Dornback from Basi Italia, and he made poached chicken; when someone asked what the poaching liquid was, he mentioned there were corn cobs in the stock. A lightbulb went off above my head: I'll make a double sweet corn risotto! I'll make it really light in fat to show my readers how easy it is to make risotto without loading it with butter and cream! That will be my entire premise! Unfortunately, I roasted a chicken to go on top of the risotto, and when the chicken was out of the oven, I poured some schmaltz over the risotto. I couldn't help it - it was begging to be done! And then I added a little pinch of cream. See how honest I am? I could have gone on and on about how low fat everything was and then you'll make the recipe and think "why doesn't my risotto look all creamy and pretty like Lisa's did?" So, you can leave out the schmaltz and the cream, of course, if you have more willpower than I did. Or don't have those ingredients on hand. And then you can feel superior to me. Go ahead, it's okay.
Risotto is really easy to make. I mean, there's a lot of standing and stirring; it requires constant vigilance, but it's worth the reward. I think people (read: chefs) try to make people think risotto is hard so people will be impressed and not try to do it on their own. It's easy. You should try it. Keep a few things in mind: the rice will expand, a lot. Risotto is really about a ratio: it's about 5 to one, so plan that you will need about 5 cups of liquid per cup of rice, of course, it is sometimes more than that, but rarely less. About 1/4 to 1/3 cup of dry rice will equal a serving - it might not seem like it at first but remember, it expands. You need 2 pots to make risotto, and a ladle, and a wooden spoon or spoonula (my favorite tool), and you need 2 free burners. Your risotto pot goes on the front burner, and your simmering stock goes on the back burner. Traditional risotto is finished off with a "Mantecare," a big hit of butter which is beaten in at the end. You don't always have to do this to have delicious risotto; the nature of the type of rice used to make risotto creates a creamy, luscious dish. You must use arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano (which is pretty difficult to find): the starch content in these short grained rice varieties ensure a creamy texture.
Lately, I've been seeing a lot of people on TV and the like who say one can make risotto without lots of stirring. I just can't imagine this to be the case, and indeed, I consulted the matriarch of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan, who states "The rice must be stirred constantly so that it does not stew in the liquid and become mushy." (Marcella's Italian Kitchen, p 153 - you should buy it, it's a great book). She even goes on to state "The fundamental technique is unalterable." See? You have to stir. No choice. Marcella also recommends using a nice heavy, heat-retaining pot. I use an All Clad 8 Quart Stainless Stockpot, but a Le Creuset pot would also be perfect for this recipe. Don't use a light, cheap pot.
Sweet Corn Risotto - serves 4ish, but I like to make it serve 2, with leftovers
1 medium red onion (or any onion), small dice
2 medium leeks, whites and light green parts, halved lengthwise and the cut into thin half moons,
4 cloves garlic, fine dice or mashed through garlic masher
red pepper flakes
1 cup risotto rice such as arborio
6 ears sweet corn
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine, plus 1/2 cup
4-6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock, for vegetarian version)
salt and pepper
15 sage leaves, cut into chiffonade
butter (optional) or schmaltz (optional)
On your back burner, heat the stock to a simmer. Add 1/2 cup vermouth or white wine. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add a little olive oil, then add the onions and leeks and sweat them over slightly less-than-medium heat. Stir in the garlic and sweat for about 3-4 minutes, add the pepper flakes, then add the rice. Stir the rice until it has begun to pearlize - the grain will turn from all white to translucent with a little white spot in the center. Deglze the pan with the 1/2 cup of vermouth and stir. While the wine is reducing, cut the kernels off the ears right into the pan. After cutting the kernels off, turn the knife over to the dull side and scrape the "milk" off the cob. Throw the cobs into the stock. Sprinkle everything generously with salt and pepper. Add one ladelful (I use about 6 ounces of stock per addition) of stock and stir until the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat, repeat, and repeat for about 20-25 minutes or so. The risotto is finished when the grains still have bite but are not chalky inside. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the sage and stir well. At this point, you can either add another ladelful of stock and stir it in lightly for a runnier risotto, or simply finish when the rice is as described above for a tighter risotto. I like mine somewhere in between - I don't like leftover liquid, but I do like the whole mess of risotto to relax into the bowl, not to stay in a mound.
If desired, turn the heat off and add 1/2 stick of butter, softened and cut into chunks. Beat the risotto for 2 minutes with your spoon. Alternatively, you can pour about 1/4 cup of schmaltz over, along with 1/4 cup heavy cream, and beat for 2 minutes. Yum. Eat with a spoon while still really hot. Throw a bit of roasted chicken on top, if desired (isn't it funny how different the risotto looks under lightbulbs, above, versus outside, below):
And now, back to Harry.