Monday, July 30, 2012

Fresh Memories: Mountain and Sea Flavors

As of now, I am back on domestic soil, soaking in all of the glory of Louisville to assuage my worries. I am happy to be home, to taste the familiar flavors, to smell that sweet humidity, and to see so much beautiful green again. My friends and family welcomed me with open arms and a table full of goodies, and I did pretty well fighting off a 16-hour trip to enjoy it! Now it is back to the grind, searching for a big girl job (career?!?!?!), keeping up with the Handsome Spaniard, and checking out what I've missed for the past year in L'ville.

I've managed to sit down and gather my thoughts for this post, a reflection on the fruits of the Mediterranean region: delights from the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. Today we'll be preparing a Wild Mushroom Risotto and Whitefish a la Plancha (seared fish).

When you are working with dried mushrooms, which I was, make sure that you rinse them off to remove any dirt and grit, then give them a quick soak for good measure (5 minutes). Drain that water and rinse the mushrooms again. Heat a pot of water to boiling and remove from heat, add the mushrooms, and in 30 minutes they should be re-hydrated enough to cook. Reserve the mushroom soaking water for the recipe, and if you have any leftover you can put it in vegetable stocks and stir-fries--just don't throw it out!!!

Wild Mushroom Risotto
1 C Dried mushrooms
1 Onion, chopped
4 Cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C White wine (pick one you would actually drink)
2 C Short-grain white rice, rinsed well!
1 C Beef stock
1 C Mushroom stock
2 T Butter
2 T Olive oil
Black pepper
1/4 C Parmesan cheese

After you have re-hydrated your mushrooms, set them aside and prep the rest of your vegetables. Also prep your broth by boiling a pot of the beef stock and mushroom stock together. When it reaches a boil, take it off the heat. 

Once the onions and garlic are chopped sauté them in a pan with the already heated butter and olive oil. When you combine the butter and olive oil it protects the butter from browning and burning, which is a nice security measure for your entire dish. Sauté the onion and garlic together on medium heat until translucent but not browned. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the rice. Cook the rice until it turns white and a few of them start to get a little toasty. When that happens, throw in that beautiful white wine and and mushrooms and stir up the bottom of the pan (the deglazing is very important for the flavor).

The next step is the star technique of the risotto, and that is stirring in the broth one ladle at a time. Have your pan on the back burner and the pot on the burner in front of it with a ladle at the ready. When the white wine has reduced and soaked into the rice, it is time to start adding the beef/mushroom broth. The idea is: Ladle of broth, stir until soaked in, ladle of broth, stir until soaked in, etc. When you're about finished, and you have about 2 ladles left, add in your seasonings to taste and then finish up your risotto. It will be creamy and beautiful. When all the broth has been added, stir in the cheese and you have a glorious dish waiting for you. It is earthy and comforting, and a surprisingly good accompaniment to Whitefish a la Plancha!

One of the last things I did in Barcelona was visit the incredible Ferran Adrià exhibit about his career and work at El Bulli. I actually went back and took notes on the museum--it was so well done. I especially loved the part where they had a table set with two chairs and a projector over top that would show you the different dishes, announce them, and they would demonstrate how they ate them. I was enamored, seriously enamored. Anyways, in my notes was to mix the mountain flavors with the sea--and the balance of comforting and warm with fresh and light are just astonishingly beautiful. I highly recommend trying it with any other similar combination...just think, mountains meet sea! On to the Whitefish a la Plancha!

Whitefish a la Plancha
2 Fresh whitefish fillets (have your fishmonger clean it up, but leave one side skin-on)
Olive oil
Chili flakes (we used Turkish chili flakes)
Black Pepper

If you already had your fishmonger prepare your fillets, the hardest part is over. Clean up the fillets, pat them dry and set them on a plate. Oil and garlic both sides of the fish. Season both sides with a mixture of salt, pepper, and chili flakes, and let them sit for about 10 minutes to gather that delicious flavor. Heat up a pan on medium-high heat. Sauté first skin side down for about 4 minutes, then flip over until cooked through. That's seriously all you need to do!

Enjoy my friends! From the mountains and from the sea, bring those flavors back to me!

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