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Vegetarian on the inside

September 25, 2012

By ALIX HUI

If you’re going to fall, you might as well try and do with style.

Back when I moonlighted as a graduate student in order to support my ultimate frisbee habit, I wore my bruises and scabs with pride. They were the slowly fading cheers of a roar-inducing glory play — a crash landing after my 10-inch vertical dominated the offense or a dramatic somersault after tangling up my feet in the soft sand (you’re a true baller if you play frisbee on the beach) while walking back to the line. My oozing elbow scrapes meant that I couldn’t wear long sleeves, though really, who wears long sleeves in LA anyway? People with nothing to show off, that’s who.

Let’s pretend that I am a historian of sensory perception science. Falling is one of those phenomena that fascinated nineteenth-century sensory perception scientists. Or rather, it fascinated at least one that I know of. He did lots of experiments on it. Some included pigeons. Falling reminds the individual that they, by accelerating through it, exist in space. Falling is how you know that you have a body and are not simply a phenomenological figment of your own (or someone else’s) imagination. Like the season, falls remind us that we are alive.

 Nope. Not really a segue at all. Fall is here! The night air is crisp. The humidity has flown south. Everyone is alert again and walking with a purpose. Soon the leaves will begin turning and the NFL will cave to the referee union. Mornings are so cool that I had to wear socks the other day! SOCKS! If it’s cool enough for socks, then it’s cool enough for comfort food.

 And nothing says comfort food like a nice creamy bowl of risotto.  But, you protest, risotto is, like your talkative great-aunt with the trained pet crows, time-intensive and kind of scary. Not to worry, my friend. Once you build up your confidence, you won’t think twice about taking the risotto plunge. I think I’ve outlined the three dangers of the risotto fire swamp before, but it’s worth reviewing again:

— It must be served right away, like lightening sand (yes, I’m making The Princess Bride references, congrats on noticing). This is, in fact, true. Stop fussing and just plan accordingly.

— There is a perception that it must be stirred constantly or the world will end.  This is kind of try but not entirely true. Like, you could leave it to burble to itself for a minute or so but don’t wander off. This might be a good place to conscript a child or childlike adult into stirring. Remind them to scrape the bottom regularly to avoid burning the rice.

— The timing of adding the stock is hard.  Well, yes and no.  It just requires some practice and patience.

The recipe that follows for cauliflower and dried mushroom risotto may seem like a bit of a hodgepodge but it’s delicious. It’s just about my favorite thing. Earthy and rich and creamy, it’s the perfect dish to usher in the season. Fall in.
 
Cover the dried mushrooms with hot water and set aside to soak. Warm the stock to a gentle simmer. Bring a medium pot of water to boil and add the cauliflower florets, parboiling them until they are just tender. Drain and run them under cold water to stop their cooking. Cook them in 1 Tablespoon of butter in a pan over medium heat for just 1 or 2 minutes and then set aside.

Once you’ve got everything prepped, heat the butter or oil in medium-high heat in either a deep skillet or wide saucepan. Add the garlic and shallot/onion and cook, stirring regularly so that the garlic doesn’t burn, until softened, about 3 minutes.  Lower the heat to medium-low and stir in the rice. After about 1 minute, when the rice is slightly translucent, add the wine. Make sure everything is simmering. Keep stirring. When the wine is absorbed, add 2 cups of the stock.  Cover the pot and — again, keep stirring — simmer until the liquid is just absorbed, maybe 3 minutes.

Now it gets a little tricky. Keep the liquid burbling gently, not a roaring boil. This will likely require some adjusting as the stock is added, so monitor carefully. You want to add the next 1.5 cups of stock in half-cup increments, waiting for all the liquid to be absorbed between each addition, stirring all the time. My loose rule for determining whether the liquid is adequately absorbed is to draw my stirring spoon across the bottom of the pot, parting the rice. If it takes to the count of three for the bottom of pot to again be covered with rice then it is time to add the next half-cup of stock.

Add the parsley. Continue adding the last cup of the stock. Still in half-cup increments. Still always stirring. Add salt and a few grinds of pepper to taste. Check that the risotto is slightly al dente. Fish out the garlic halves, stir in the cauliflower and nuts if you’re using them and turn off the heat. If you’re using the gorgonzola, sprinkle that on top now. Enjoy immediately.
 
Alix Hui is an Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University.  She can be contacted at alixhui@gmail.com.

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