I’ve been on a meatball kick lately. They aren’t something that I typically make very often, but lately I can’t seem to get enough. It’s funny, because when I was a little kid I actually hated meatballs. I remember sitting in my high-chair throwing them (and making a huge mess) and demanding that my mom rinse off the sauce and give me ketchup instead (ew). But lately, I’ve been craving the familiar comfort of this dish — from classic spaghetti and meatballs or meatball subs to meatballs with sauerbraten sauce over egg noodles.
When I recently learned that there’s a restaurant in New York City entirely devoted to these tender balls of ground meat simmered in sauce (The Meatball Shop), I immediately browsed their menu and decided what I would order if I went. And then I made it. (PS I went to the Shop this past weekend and it’s every bit as wonderful as you’d expect!)
For as often as I make risotto, I never thought to pair it with red sauce. When I saw that The Meatball Shop offers it as a side dish though, I was immediately sold on the idea. It’s such a nice change from pasta, and it gives the dish an entirely different feel. It makes spaghetti and meatballs seem like kids food; this is for grown ups. Meant to be eaten lazily by candle-light while drinking red wine, served with a side of bitter greens (in this case, with some sautéed broccoli rabe).
I had to laugh a little when I saw that this month’s Daring Cooks Challenge was risotto. It doesn’t take very much time on this blog to figure out that we love the stuff and I even have a whole categorydedicated to it! I took the opportunity to step a little out of my comfort zone and make a vegetarian meal based around the risotto itself rather than relying on lots of toppings. In fact, this simple and delicious risotto only makes three changes to the standard recipe – the addition of beets and the substitutions of goat cheese for parmesan and red wine for white.
The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from Autralian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.
In my recent blog survey, an overwhelming number of you asked for more information on how to create your own recipes. Risotto is the perfect place to start! Once you have the basics of making the base down, you can feel free to experiment with add-ins. The rice itself has a very subtle flavor, so just about any other ingredients will work – you can either mix them in, like I did here, for a more uniform flavor or you can serve them on top of the rice and let each individual flavor speak for itself. Pick an ingredient that you want to use, and think about what other flavors work well with it. Those will be the main components of your dish – 2 or 3 should be plenty. Then you can change up the items in the base to go along with those flavors. There are three main areas where you can make changes – the aromatics, the wine, and the cheese. For example, if you’re going for a French theme you might want to use shallots instead of onion and ramps go great with other springtime flavors like peas or asparagus. If you’re using a bold flavor like sliced steak and don’t care about the risotto being a creamy white, you can consider using red wine. And you can use whatever cheese you think will go best with the flavors that you’re using.
For this dish, I took my inspiration from one of my favorite salads – simple greens dressed with beets and crumbled chevre. Since I had an open bottle of pinot noir and I didn’t care about the dish being pristine white so I used that instead of white wine. The flavor of the beets were strong enough that they masked the wine and either would probably have worked just as well. Upon the first taste, I could tell that it needed something – the flavors were kind of muddled and heavy. Lots of freshly ground pepper did the trick! I’ve found that whenever a recipe I’m creating seems too dull, it’s because it needs either more acidity or more spice. Something like a splash of lemon juice, a simple vinaigrette, or some black pepper is usually all you need to perk the flavors right up!
What would flavors would you use in your risotto?
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It’s been a while since I’ve posted a good risotto, but this one is worth the wait – it combines some of my favorite flavors – crab, leeks, and lemon, and goat cheese. It’s a lot lighter than other risotto’s that I’ve made, which makes it perfect for summertime.
One thing I love about risotto is that just about anything tastes good in it, so it can be very seasonal. I used some nice spring asparagus and ramps in this. Unfortunately, I can never find a good selection of mushrooms here so I didn’t have many options. The dried porcinis were perfect though- they added a nice heartiness to the dish, and I used some of the broth from rehydrating them to flavor the rice.