Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Guest Post from Snowy Washington

This post finds it's way to us via Anna's most fabulous brother and sister-in-law who reside in suburban Washington DC...

Their Snowed In View...

This winter, Washington DC has received more snow than ever in recorded history. Most of that came in two back-to-back 20” poundings this past week. The city was shuttered for six days.

Big storms do tend to unite people. And that was true in our little neighborhood in the north end of Alexandria, a suburb of Washington. Over the course of the week, five young, married couples rotated around to each other’s homes, with a bottle of wine or a random frozen appetizer in tow.

Our night was Wednesday. We sent the call over blackberry-powered emails to the group: Come for dinner. Bring nothing. But what on earth would we serve? What resulted was a fabulous dinner cobbled together from the most haphazard of ingredients. When we heard the snows were coming, Jessica braved the grocery for what turned out to be a rather random shopping spree resulting in frozen perogies and spring rolls, a wedge of brie, a melon and two packs of prosciutto, a couple of avocados and some tomatoes. Oh, and an industrial sized box of hot chocolate.

The pieces began to come together. We had a partial box of Aborio rice. I saw the prosciutto and remembered a bag of frozen peas I used last year to sooth a burn on my hand. Peas. Proscuitto. Rice. What else but risotto? In what can only be defined as divine culinary intervention, Mario Batali has a recipe for just such a risotto in his latest cookbook, a gift we received from our wonderful sister Anna this Christmas. I make stock and freeze it into cubes a couple times a year. We didn’t have shallot, but we had a couple old onions. Celery came from a leftover vegetable plate from a previous night’s gathering. The only problem: our one package of frozen peas wasn’t going to cut it. Turns out that was ok. No fewer than three other couples had partial or full bags of peas in their freezers. What are the chances?

The tomatoes along with some greens and balsamic vinegar made for a lovely salad. And a loaf of bread sliced, oiled, salted, peppered and broiled made for a wonderful accompaniment to the risotto. Oh, and how about funfetti cake with vanilla frosting and crystal sprinkles that echoed the falling snow outside.

All in all, it was a dinner at least as good as one planned to the last detail.

Snowed-in Risotto (adapted from Mario Batali)

Serves five frozen couples

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 onions, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

4 ounces prosciutto, diced

3 cups Arborio rice

10-12 cups chicken stock, warmed

3 bags frozen peas, defrosted

1 stick unsalted butter

Lots and lots of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano

Salt and pepper

1. In a big ol’ sauté pan, combine the olive oil, onion, celery and prosciutto and cook over medium heat until the onion and celery are soft, not brown, 8-10 minutes.

2. Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes, until almost opaque. Add stock to cover the rice, turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring until the stock begins to be absorbed, then add another ladleful. As the level of stock dips below the level of the rice, continue to add stock one ladleful at a time to keep the rice covered, stirring constantly. After 15 minutes, taste the rice, it should be firm but on it’s way.

3. Add the peas and cook for a few more minutes, add more stock if necessary, until the rice is tender and creamy yet still al dente. The risotto should be quite moist but not swimming.

4. Remove from the heat, add the butter and Parmigiano, and stir vigorously for 25 seconds (no fewer, no more!) season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

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