Risotto. Sweet Potato Leek Risotto.October 18, 2006
Risotto. It’a a genius dish. Sometimes it’s a mere sideshow, sometimes it’s a solo act with its name in lights. Sometimes it features glamorous ingredients, such as exotic mushrooms and truffles (yes, please!); sometimes it’s a more humble mix of rice and cheese. Whether side dish or main dish, whether with white truffles or white cheese, risotto is always delicious.
Channeling famed Italian chef Roberto Donna (more on that below), my husband has concocted his own fabulous and unique Sweet Potato and Leek Risotto. While it has not yet surpassed the place in my heart held by his delicious mushroom risotto, it is still a deadly quiver in his culinary arsenal.
It might sound strange to combine sweet potatoes and leeks in a creamy rice brew — I admit that I thought so. But as usual, I was wrong. The sweet potatoes don’t war with the leeks, as I thought they would. Instead, they both contribute their mild, sweet flavors to the starch party and mingle generously with the rice and other spices. The result is a colorful, delicious and sweetly flavored risotto that was a perfect side dish to the salty, savory sirloin-steak star that night. Ah, risotto. You’ve done it again. Read on for hubby’s recipe and more on Roberto Donna.
While not the greatest week of food writing by me, last week was a great deal of fun in the kitchen. It began with the chance to attend a cooking demonstration by DC’s reigning Italian Chef extraordinaire, Roberto Donna. For food lovers across America, he’s probably best known for his two appearances on Food Network’s Iron Chef America. (“I’m coming for you, Morimoto!”) To us in DC, this big man with an even bigger personality is best known as the owner-chef of one of the finest restaurants inside the beltway, Galileo.
Donna taught four dishes at the demonstration, and I put one immediately to use: risotto. Risotto is already one of my favorite dishes, and having him serve up his own version and speak so lovingly of it gave me insight into ways to improve my own. Don’t worry, I’m not stingy (and I took notes): Here are some pieces of advice Donna gave…
1. Use the right rice. While he also likes arborio rice, Donna recommended using vialone nano rice. Like arborio, it is an Italian, starchy, short-grain rice, but it has better texture and flavor than arborio. After using it, I agreed. He reminded us that the rice should be used within one year of the date on the label, and should be sealed in a vacuum pack — unless you want vermin.
2. Use warm stock or broth. If you use cold, you will slow the cooking time because each step will require the broth to return to temperature.
3. Don’t use a metal spoon to stir the rice because it’s more likely to break the rice into pieces. You want to keep the rice intact and maintain its structural integrity.
4. If you are in a hurry, toast your rice in advance. Do this by heating it in a warm skillet until it is fragrant. Once the rice has a nice nutty smell, move it to a bowl until you are ready to cook with it.
Watching Donna speak and discuss his passion was exciting — and it also served as a launching pad for a meal I was planning for my in-laws, who were coming into town. Fear not: This is not a horror story. In fact, it’s a pleasure — because it was at my in-laws’ table that I ate many “firsts.” They are great for peer pressure. Using what I learned from the master, Roberto Donna, I immediately put my own risotto into motion: Sweet Potato and Leek Risotto. The results are below. I hope you enjoy.
Sweet Potato and Leek Risotto
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups vialone nano or arborio rice
1 cup champagne or sparkling wine
1 sweet potato (cubed and steamed)
1 leak (chopped)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. fresh chopped thyme
1 tbsp. fresh chopped marjoram
3 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1. Cube sweet potato and steam until potato pieces yield easily under the pressure of a fork or pairing knife. Approximately, 15 min.
(NOTE: You are pre-cooking the sweet potato because of its density. If you did not, it would likely never cook completely in the risotto.)
2. In a pot or large pan over medium high heat, melt the butter. Once the butter has stopped bubbling and has a soft nutty smell, add the chopped leek and salt. Cook until the leek has softened, about 2 min.
3. Add the rice and stir until it has absorbed the butter and begins to give off a soft aroma, 3-4 min.
4. Add the champagne and stir until the rice absorbs it.
(NOTE: I used champagne because that’s what I made for my in-laws, and the results were excellent. However, you may replace it. I used a champagne that had a nice spicy punch and added a good amount of flavor. Feel free to replace it with another white wine or even sake — you may need to adjust proportion — which I’ve used in a pinch.)
5. Add the broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring regularly. You are looking for the broth to be fully absorbed before adding the next cup. It should take several minutes between each step. By the time you reach the last cup, it should be very viscous and the rice should be al dente (meaning it has a very slight firmness still to it).
(NOTE: You should begin tasting the risotto as soon as it begins to thicken, because the amount of broth needed may vary. If you are out of broth, you may use water.)
5. Once the risotto is al dente, add the black pepper, the white pepper, marjoram, thyme, and sweet potato cubes. Cover and turn down the heat to low and cook for 10 min. Add the parmesan cheese then salt to taste. Serve. Enjoy!