The Gleeful Gourmand: Southwestern Risotto

Friday, June 7, 2013

Southwestern Risotto

It's all about the billing. When you read as many food magazines, and food blogs as I do (not to mention the endless food pins on Pinterest); there are relatively few recipes that end up getting made. Even the photography sometimes is not enough to march past a sigh of "man, that looks good," into the kitchen, and start clanging pots and pans around. For me, it has to be about the billing, the way it's described.

Take, for instance, my dear friend Kiki over at I Still Hate Pickles. We were on one of our weekly phone calls when she started rhapsodizing about this Southwestern Risotto she had just made, on the fly. The way she described it to me was like this risotto was the best thing she had eaten all year - and this was coming from a very pregnant woman.

"We ate so much of it we felt sick. And then we ate some more. It was that good. I'm going to blog about it."

Kiki's Southwestern Risotto. So good. So very, very good.

Blog about it she did, and I have to say, after looking at the ingredients, not only did it seem easy, but it seemed interesting. The Southwestern angle was a departure for me, and the fact that it was risotto didn't deter me. I've never been one to mind standing and stirring for a long time, or even doing several extra steps as long as a dish turns out magnificently. I had to try it and find out if it was really as incredible as she made it out to be.

I found out that it absolutely is. In fact, it is so easy, and so excellent, that it's now a staple in our recipe rotation during the week. So, here's how I would bill it: As I said, besides the standing and stirring, it could not be easier. The addition of a deli rotisserie chicken makes prep work so quick. The tomatoes and rice together create a robust, comforting taste, and that's even before the Monterey Jack cheese. But what really makes this dish a winner in my book is the way the spices wake up the whole thing before it can taste too heavy. Of course, I'm also in awe of how she just came up with this on her own (if you know me at all, you know this is not how I cook, but it's a way of cooking I completely envy).

Kiki's Southwestern Risotto

1 T coconut oil (or olive oil)
1 sweet yellow onion, diced
2 T minced garlic
2 jalapenos, seeded, cored, and diced
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 chicken, shredded in pieces (we used a mix of pre-cooked white and dark meat, and a rotisserie chicken would work well) 
1 cup arborio rice
3 cups water 
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 dash sugar (less than 1 tsp) 
Monterey Jack cheese, grated
seasonings: cumin, Tony Chacheres, salt, pepper (or any southwest or fajita seasoning). All to taste.

Heat the coconut oil in a medium to large saucepan. Saute the diced onions until clear, then add the garlic and jalapenos. I seasoned at this point with just a little salt. Once everything is sweating, add in the spinach and let it cook down, then the chicken. If things are getting too dry, add a bit more oil. 

Toss in the abrorio and stir in, letting it mix in with the flavors and whatever oil is in the pan. I seasoned again here with a bit of Tony Chacheres, mostly because I was feeling too lazy to get out the normal mix of spices I might have used (coriander, cumin, cayenne--all the C's). I kept it mild because we were also feeding the kids, but wish we hadn't, since they weren't into this dish and Rob and I wanted it hotter. The jalapenos didn't add a lot of kick...or maybe I've just lived in Texas too long.

When the rice is popping, add in the can of diced tomatoes with juice and 1 cup of water. Turn the heat down a bit and stir as the liquid starts to absorb. Toss in a tiny dash of sugar (optional, but I always do to cut the acidity of the tomatoes). This is when the standing and stirring begins. You want it to be simmering, and you don't want to have the rice sticking to the pan. As the liquid absorbs, add more of the water and keep simmering and stirring. For me, this took about 15 minutes. There was a little liquid left, but it was mostly creamy, lovely risotto deliciousness.

Top with Monterey Jack and stir to let the cheese melt and incorporate. (If you have cilantro, that would be a great addition on top as well.) Eat. Then eat some more.


Here are my notes:

• I used olive oil.

• For some reason every time I've made this dish, the bottom of my dutch oven starts to brown way too much, so here's an addition I don't miss now: I put in a healthy splash of whatever wine I'm drinking (white or red, it doesn't seem to matter) to deglaze the pot. The flavor of the wine only enhances the entire dish.

• I omitted the spinach. I forgot to buy it the first time, and I've left it out ever since. We eat a lot of spinach in our house, so I didn't feel bad leaving it out.

• I used a full packet of Fajita seasoning and it was just perfect. Even the kids loved it.

• If you've never made risotto before, here's the deal: Yes, in the end, there is a lot of standing and stirring and adding water. Kiki's assessment of 3 cups of water is spot-on, but it took me more like 20-25 minutes. Every stove will be different. What you're looking for when you taste the rice is a tender, but firm bite. You don't want it crunchy, but you also don't want it to be soft like other cooked rice. Enjoy!

2 comments :

Elizabeth said...

May have to try this sometime! :)

Jenna said...

You won't be sorry, Liz!!

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