Monday, February 16, 2009


I made my first risotto yesterday. It was for Otto, the first of his two Valentine’s Day presents (his second comes Thursday but I can’t say more because it’s a surprise; suffice it to say, I will post a detailed report on my blog following the affair—hey, there you go, Otto, there’s the hint you wanted so desperately—it has to do with food! As if that was any surprise to you at all).

But back to present number one.

...but first, a prelude:

On Saturday, Otto and I went to see our friend’s band Moonspank perform at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village. Otto took the liberty of making reservations beforehand at one of his favorite dining destinations in downtown Manhattan, City Hall Restaurant; the restaurant was serving up a lovely (albeit jacked-up) Valentine’s Day prix-fixe meal for $65 each. Otto ordered the Main-Lobster Crab Risotto with asparagus and sweet peas for his entrée. Take a look at it here (sorry it's so blurry, I didn't have my regular camera with me):
My Filet Mignon “Cub Steak” was having understandable difficulties comparing to what I had eaten only days before at BLT Steak (I had also come across a tiny piece of gristle which was too big to swallow so had to be delicately and discreetly spit into my napkin; later I had forgotten all about it—when I rose from the table we watched the chewed-up remnant plop not so discreetly on the floor). Bottom line: I was paying more attention to what was going on over at Otto’s plate.

I’ve had a very memorable aged parmesan risotto with white truffles from Anthony Goncalves’ old stomping ground Trotters in White Plains. Otto’s risotto at City Hall was more enjoyable. We loved the firmness of the rice, yet how the dish as a whole was rich and velvety. While we were enjoying our feast, I divulged Otto’s first present: I would cook him the dinner of his choice Sunday night. The sky was the limit, anything his heart desired: salmon roulade, veal scaloppini, lobster tail—I was up for a challenge. Otto stopped gobbling his risotto to consider this.

“Will you make risotto?” he asked finally.

I should have seen that one coming, but didn't. Lucky for me, I had just finished Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires, a thoroughly entertaining and fascinating read about Reichl’s stint as food critic at the New York Times (Reichl is now editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine). She recounts the lengths with which she went to remain anonymous in New York City restaurants, donning crazy disguises and personalities. Part of the book’s charm was the decision to include Reichl’s most popular restaurant reviews, such as her notorious review of Le Cirque, where one visit is Reichl disguised as a frumpy old woman and the other is as Ruth Reichl, arguably the most powerful woman in Manhattan (the difference is night and day). I also loved the smattering of recipes throughout the book. I had dog-eared a page for Risotto Primavera, Reichl’s adaptation of Le Cirque’s lobster risotto, and was looking for an excuse to try it.

My adaptation of Reichl’s adaptation follows—I cut back on some of the butter and oil, along with some other improvisations:


10 asparagus
6 cups of chicken stock (Reichl says homemade is the way to go, I say Trader’s Joe’s Rotisserie stock gives you time to watch Planet B-Boy in front of the TV later that evening)
A few dried Rosemary leaves (Reichl says saffron instead of the rosemary that Le Cirque uses; I say rosemary because saffron is $18.95 at Stop & Shop)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 finely chopped red onion
2 carrots, finely chopped
A box of shiitake mushrooms (Reichl uses zucchini, I say, ewww, zucchini)
Some salt
2 cups of Arborio rice
½ cup cooking wine
½ cup of frozen peas, thawed
½ cup of Parmigiano cheese

Making risotto is easy! And guess what? It looks so fancy and dinner-party-esque! Here’s how you do it:

Basically, get your chicken stock simmering in a pot. Add a little rosemary. In another pan, melt butter with oil on low to medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes. Then add the carrot and cook for another 5 minutes, then the bottoms of the asparagus for another 5 minutes.

Next, you’re ready to add the rice; make sure you thoroughly coat it with oil. Add the wine and stir until it has evaporated. Next, take the stock you have simmering in your other pot, and slowly add it to the rice until the rice is completely covered. Continue to add stock as it evaporates, making sure to keep the rice completely covered with stock. You’ll continue this process for about 20 minutes or so: adding, stirring, evaporating. Add your asparagus tips, peas, and mushrooms. Keep adding the stock until it’s almost gone, or your rice starts to give a bit. Turn off the stove, and add the Parmigiano cheese. Mix. Oh, and that salt you see from the ingredients list? Go ahead and add it in if you like. Done!

(Next time, I'm going to try using a bigger pan so I can try flipping the risotto in the air like the chefs do. Other than that, no complaints--the end result was delicious!)

City Hall Restaurant

131 Duane St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 227-7777

1 comment:

  1. I made a variation of this risotto recipe tonight (minus asparagus and mushrooms due to lack of properly stocked fridge), and it was indeed delicious! A bit of a pain to make if, especially if you're making something else simultaneously since the risotto requires all of your concentration for approximately 40 minutes. But well worth it - and helpful hint, risotto has to be eaten immediately following preparation, otherwise loses quite a bit in terms of flavor and texture.