I know that fall and winter holidays are touted as the ideal time for cooking and entertaining, but the pressure and the presents, not to mention the dark, cold days, make the prospect daunting, the tasks overwhelming. But give me some sunshine, flip-flops and a grill, and I’m ready for a great time, anytime, with little to no planning (and similarly, little to no housekeeping—I just herd everyone and everything outside). As the days stretch longer and the breezes blow warmer, I can think of few things better than impromptu get-togethers, to cook lavishly or simply, and welcome in the budding new season and usher out the old.
It's the end of the semester here, so as good a time as any to let the summer grilling festivities begin (despite mountains of grading). I mentioned on Sunday that a friend brought back fresh salmon from Central Market in Houston this weekend, so we’ve been eating like middle-class royalty for the past few nights.
I decided not to mess around too much, and stuck with my favorite grilled salmon recipe from epicurious.com, Glazed Grilled Salmon. The recipe calls for salmon steaks, but I’ve always made it with fillets. It’s so easy and so good; you probably have all the ingredients (besides the salmon) in the pantry already. The only change I made this time was to use fresh lime juice in place of the rice vinegar and to add 1 teaspoon of green Thai curry paste. I was in the mood for Thai flavors, and given that the nearest Thai restaurant is hours away, it was going to have to be Camilla’s way or no way.
What I ended up with is more easily defined as pan Asian than Thai cuisine—but it was still so good, an especially pleasing contrast to East Texas bbq (I can do this, on occasion) and catfish (I've tried; I just can't stomach it).
One of my current culinary fixations is the trinity of Southeast Asian herbs—basil, cilantro & mint. Is there nothing it can't make more delicious? (I must reserve such rhetorical questions to the blog unless I want grumbles from my otherwise loving spouse). And now that our basil and mint are growing gangbusters, it’s easy to change some of my standby dishes into Thai-influenced ones.
To accompany the grilled salmon, I decided to transport an easy risotto dish across the globe to accompany the salmon. I could eat my weight in risotto, and when it’s the star of the dinner, I have no problem standing over the stove for the 20 minutes it takes to stir and pour in the broth by the ladle-full. But when I’m tending the grill, and want the risotto to play a supporting role, the stand and stir method is out. That’s why I was thrilled to find a simplified, virtually no-stir method for baked risotto in the Sunday paper a few years back. The recipe was developed by Pam Anderson (of the Perfect Recipe series; she’s also a former editor for Cook’s Illustrated).
The method allows for only occasional bursts of stirring, yet the results rival the traditional method: rich, smooth, and creamy. I’ve cut back on the oil; with the creaminess of the rice, you don’t miss it at all. I no longer have her exact recipe, but have made a variation of it so many times that’s it’s embedded in my brain. I’ve provided my version of the “master recipe,” but it can be varied endlessly with different cheeses, herbs, cooking liquids, and aromatics. For example, to accompany the salmon, I left out the cheese, and used light coconut milk in place of the water, then added fresh ginger, Thai herbs, and lime (I give the specifics below). And to make the master recipe a main dish, simply stir in cooked chicken, shrimp, seafood, or meat in the final five minutes of cooking.
Halfway through baking, I began questioning the combination of risotto with grilled fish, but the creaminess married beautifully with the meaty, grilled salmon, and tangy soy glaze—a soul-satisfying summer (oh yes, it's already summer here in Texas) dinner.
Baked Risotto with Variations
1 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium-small onion)
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
Salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh herbs (e.g., parsley, chives, rosemary, basil)
Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 450F. Heat oil in a heavy-bottom Dutch oven or large ovenproof saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Stir in rice; cook and stir 1 minute. Add wine; simmer until the liquid has almost evaporated. Turn off heat and stir in broth and water. Cover pot with a sheet of heavy-duty foil, pressing the foil down so it’s concave and rests on the broth. Place a lid over the pot to ensure an even tighter seal.
Transfer to oven and bake 25 minutes. Remove from oven. Use a potholder to remove lid and foil (It’s very hot!). Set pot on burner over low heat.
Stir mixture, adding water if necessary, until rice is cooked and a little chewy at the center and the liquid is creamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in cheese. Adjust seasonings, including salt and pepper, to taste. Makes 8 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/8 of the risotto): Calories 234; Fat 6.9g (sat 2.7g, mono 3.6g, poly 0.8g); Protein 7.8g; Cholesterol 11mg; Carbohydrate 38.9g; Sodium 582mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Thai Herb Risotto: Add 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger along with the wine. Replace the water with a 14 ounce can light coconut milk (plus enough water to measure 2 cups total). Eliminate cheese. Add the end of cooking, stir in 2 tablespoon fresh lime juice 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest, and 1/4 cup each chopped mint, basil and cilantro.
This is the variation I make most:
Lemon Rosemary Risotto: After removing risotto from oven, stir in 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, 3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest.