Risotto: More than 100 Recipes for the Classic Rice Disk of Northern Italy (Anglais) Broché – 10 mai 1989
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In the late 1980s, I first started seeing risotto offered frequently in Mediterranean or even New American yuppie restaurants in the SF Bay Area when I visited on business--but not yet readily in fine restaurants in Seattle, for instance. Risotto was a clear trend for foodies, but hadn't yet hit mainstream nationally. So it was with impeccable timing that Barrett and Wasserman released "Risotto" in 1987.
I caught the bug early and hard. After I got this cookbok--in one my inspired food specialty frenzies--I wanted to make everything risotto. It was the perfect, versatile one-bowl (though usually 2-3 pots) meal that could fit any flavor or fancy, a base for any vegetables, seafood, meat, fruit, or herbs you wanted to cook with that day. I literally cooked risotto two or three times a week for 8 months, from fall harvest through a Seattle winter and into springtime baby vegetables. And I used this cookbook for all of it.
This cookbook "Risotto" had many virtures. First, it is an exceptionally clear introduction to risotto: its history, varieties of rice, geography, how it is cooked and used, etc. Second, as other reviews state (and you can see in the Search-Inside-The-Book table of contents), it covers many kinds of risotto and has plenty of recipes: cheese, vegetable, meat, fish, fruit, liqueur, leftover.
But the strongest (and non-obvious) feature of this cookbook is how it makes use of its Basic Recipe. Up front, with tips and tools and techniques, it describes a canonical recipe for making risotto: the broth, the oil/butter and minced onion and rice, the first stir of liquid, the stirring and adding broth, the sauteed "soffrito" ingredients, and the final additions of cheese, broth, and sometimes cream to stir in. The cookbook gives ingredient amounts for cooking the basic recipe for different size dinners, with a few additional tips for making more or less than the canonical (serves 4) recipe.
In the rest of the book, recipes all can then say, for instance: Start with the basic recipe, but this time we're going to add the chopped spinach after 10 minutes of stirring in step 3; or Once the rice is coated in the oil, stir in 1/2 cup of white wine (instead of broth); or In the last step, omit the cheese and broth and use 1/2 cup of cream. And of course the soffrito, the usually-sauteed ingredients mixed in, were different for every one.
I usually resist a standardized recipe, feeling like a straitjacket. But this had the opposite effect. Having a single Basic Recipe was a great way to build confidence and proficiency with a new way of cooking. And building 100 recipes off of it--including restrained, classic Italian risottos, together with more creative or adventurous combinations--made it clear how once you'd mastered the Basic Recipe and how to apply it, you could do anything with risotto! And even though I may have made the cookbook sound mechanistic by focusing on the Basic Recipe, it really is one of those cookbooks where all the recipes are a joy to read, with notes about the history of the recipe or about the ingredients, etc.
Now, nearly 20 years later, this cookbook easily stands the test of time. The techniques are clear, straightforward, complete. All of the best-known, classic Italian risottos are present. And there are dozens of variations that are great on their own, and as a guide to what you can create beyond them.
The only small hesitation that I have today with this cookbook is a consequence of its strength. The Basic Recipe is a good learning tool, and is the way that a generation of American home chefs have now been introduced to cooking risotto. But there are actually variations in how risotto is made--what fats to use, how much broth to add and how to stir, using alternative tools like pressure cookers, etc. Once you're an over-the-top risotto fiend like I became, you'll want to explore those as well. Fortunately, one of the co-authors of Risotto (Barrett) went on to publish a follow-on risotto cookbook that is just as delightful--and goes all out with different ways of cooking risotto and more novel and creative recipes. See "Risotto Risotti" at [...]
Oh, so what was my favorite single risotto of the dozens I made from this book? A simple one, actually. An asparagus risotto made with early-spring skinny shoots. It was the most completely-green risotto I've made, and was brimming, overflowing with that aromatic "grassy" flavor of the best asparagus--the closest I've come to ethereal grazing in a bowl.
Also included in this book,are also chapters that contain important information on risotto ingredients and traditional preparation methods. Although I found it disappointing that this book contained no photographs or illustrations, which would only have enhanced my opinion of this book, I feel that if you love risotto, you'll enjoy this book. When it comes to risotto, this book has everything you could ever need!
While the first book deals with rice as a whole, including, per its subtitle, `Great Rice Dishes for Every Day', the second book deals only with the classic rice dish of northern Italy. On the face of it, therefore, one may think that the first book is more valuable than the second, but, for serious cookbook collectors, I think that is not the case.
For starters, the author claims that `Rice, The Amazing Grain' started out as a book on the grain alone but, like an unruly child, it grew into a cookbook. From that introduction, I expected a major treatise on rice, its cultivation, varieties, and nutrition. Instead, we get something which is far inferior to what I found in the recent book, `The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook' by bread baking Guru Beth Hensperger and culinary colleague, Julie Kaufmann. This book on a very specific rice cooking technique actually has more useful information on varieties of rice than this book devoted to the whole grain.
So, it took me some time to warm up to `Rice, The Amazing Grain', especially as Ms. Simmons did nothing to really show me how amazing the grain was. I grew to like the book a bit more when I discovered a clear explanation of the differences between a pilaf and a risotto, aside from the fact that one was born in Milan and the other in the Levant. (The difference is in the variety of rice used and the fact that all liquid is added at once to a pilaf at the outset of cooking). I was also very glad to find a good chapter on rice salad dishes. Most good salad books contain few if any recipes for rice in salad, much fewer, for example, than for rice in desserts.
So, my final word on `Rice, The Amazing Story' is that it is only worth your while if you are exceptionally fond of rice as an ingredient. If you are a foodie and your interest is not specifically centered on rice, you are much better served by getting `The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook' and `Risotto'. I recommend you get both, since, while risotto can be made in a rice cooker, it is, by its nature, something that is done with lid off and with constant serving. So, what a rice cooker gives you is ersatz risotto, with the same ingredients and flavors, but maybe not the same great creaminess. You can imagine the difficulties by visualizing cooking Risotto in a microwave!
On the other hand, if you really like rice and Italian cooking, `Risotto' is probably a book you should really own. It is only slightly dated as when it says that risotto ingredients and recipes are rare. Today, you can't go a week on the Food Network without someone making a risotto. And, arborio, one of the rices of choice for making risotto is on the shelf of every single supermarket I visit these days. What is really good about this book is that it deconstructs the risotto cooking process so that you can very easily see the similarities and differences between each recipe. All recipe ingredients lists and procedures are broken down into up to four different elements, the Riso (rice), brodo (broth or stock and wine), soffrito (oil and aromatics), and the condimenti (veggies, meats, poultry, or fish).
The varieties of risotto are pretty much what you would expect, with classic, cheese, vegetable, seafood, meat and poultry, and dessert (liquor and fruit) risottos. It is also not surprising to find a chapter devoted to leftover risotto, as many varieties of rice have a habit of stiffening up as starches are reabsorbed into the grains. The Chinese have created whole families of dishes of fried rice for dealing with leftover rice. Also not surprising in the western cuisines that the leftover of choice for rice is in fritters and pancakes.
As someone who has successfully made risotto on more than one occasion, I will vouch for the statement that risotto is NOT a difficult technique. It is you main dish, it can even fit into the favorite 30 minute limit for fast cooking. The only tricks to risotto are, like stir frying, prepare EVERYTHING in advance and stay with it. It needs you constant attention for up to 20 minutes. In fact one service this book does over the usual Batali / Bastianich / Hazan / Scicolone etc recipe is cut a few minutes off the time usually specified for good risotto making. This may not be much, but it helps us get under that mystical half-hour limit.
I suggest you go to the Encyclopedia Britannica for your scoop of rice background and get the two books on specific rice techniques. `Rice, The Amazing Grain' is a good choice if you really like rice, but don't want to store a lot of books on the subject.