I would have to say that it takes a lot of chutzpah to cook risotto in front of an audience. For Chef Manny Ferreira it was all in a night’s work.
Manny is the head chef at the Earth To Table Bread Bar on Locke Street. The Bread Bar is a tremendously popular restaurant which incorporates an artisan bakery by day and a pizzeria by night. It is part of the Landmark group which includes the Ancaster Mill, the Cambridge Mill, Spencer’s in Burlington and the Whistle Bear in Cambridge — all devoted to the philosophy of sourcing and using the very best local, seasonal foods. On Monday night, the night of our Go Cooking session, the first big wet snowflakes of the season were falling outside and Manny’s White Truffle and Cauliflower Risotto was the perfect, elegant, comfort food.
Risotto is one of those dishes usually labelled “quick and easy” and this phrase is the signal to me that here is a recipe in which trouble lurks ahead. With risotto, I faithfully follow the instructions, adding the liquid slowly and gradually to the rice, stirring, stirring, stirring, but inevitably end up with a dish that has been thoughtfully dubbed “chalky rice” by one of my so-called friends. Anyway, here was a chance to learn how to do it properly, with a real chef, so I paid attention.
The first tip was a no-brainer: use Italian-grown Arborio rice. The reason is that the grains in the Arborio are shorter and fatter than the grains in short-grained rice and the kernels contain a high amount of starch, which is what gives risotto its creamy texture. (A common misconception is that added cream does this. But classic risotto, in fact, does not contain cream) You start out by sautéeing this rice in butter or oil. Don’t let it brown! Usually some sort of wine is added to liven up the flavour and I noticed that Richard, Manny’s apprentice chef, added some splashes of Riesling.
The main trick, however, is to incorporate the stock into the rice properly. You have to add the stock — which is simmering in a separate stock pot — one ladle at a time (for every cup of rice, 3 – 4 cups of stock). Stirring constantly will keep the rice from scorching. But — aha — here is where JUDGMENT comes in. These additions must be repeated, stirring constantly, until the rice is soft but still “al dente” and the starches have been released from the kernels making a creamy texture. I kept my eye on Richard who toiled away at the rice, and brought it to the perfect consistency, while the Chef demonstrated how to cook crispy mushrooms and duck confit.
Once the rice is ready, the flavorings go in: in this recipe, cauliflower and white truffle oil. The cauliflower had been slightly parboiled and separated into small florets, although the chef noted that it also could have been roasted in the oven. The white truffle oil was new to me. Apparently, black truffles are from France and the truffles from Italy are white and even more expensive. (Who knew?) Not having ever been able to afford either, I was really interested to be able to sniff at the bottle of oil that Manny passed around. It had an intensely earthy and pungent fragrance — maybe mushrooms that had died and gone to heaven?
The final act of judgment includes the addition of cream. This, apparently, is a matter of chefs’ debate. The philosophy is that the cream should be added for extra body and flavour — not for texture. One must consider the flavours of the risotto. If they are very delicate (some kinds of fish or seafood — or poached poultry, perhaps) the heaviness of cream may actually mute the flavour. The cup of heavy cream added to our risotto — which was already rich and savoury from the truffle oil and duck — just added that extra touch of guilty pleasure.
And I should just add a word about the wine. Our sommelier, Peter Kline from Bacchus Sommelier Services, paired the risotto with a New Zealand, Oyster Bay Pinot Noir, 2011 (LCBO #590414) because it was perfect with the duck confit that was served with the risotto. But he remarked, upon seeing the 2 lbs of butter (no, that’s not a typo’), that eventually found its way into the risotto, that the 2010 Ghost Pines Chardonnay (LCBO #308122) that he had served with the roasted vegetable salad, would also have made an interesting choice because of its buttery flavour.
Anyway, I’m leaving you with the recipe for the White Truffle and Cauliflower Risotto. If you want to make the duck confit and crispy mushrooms, you’re on your own!
White Truffle and Cauliflower Risotto
from Chef Manny Ferreira, Earth to Table Bread Bar
4 cups Arborio rice
1 large white onion, diced fine
2 cups white wine(Riesling)
3/4 cup olive oil
1 head cauliflower, broken into small florets
2 litres chicken or veggie stock
4 tbsp. white truffle oil
1/2 lb butter
4 cups fresh grated Parmesan
1 cup heavy cream (35%)
1 cup fresh chopped parsley
salt to taste
1) Toss the cauliflower florets in a bowl with a pinch of salt and a few tablespoons olive oil.
2) Spread out onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F. for 10 minutes.
3) Let cool.
1) In a large pot, heat the olive oil until hot
2) Add the onions and cook at medium high, stirring until onions are soft. (Approximately 10 minutes.)
3) Turn the heat down to medium and add rice. Stir continually for another 5 minutes.
4) Add wine and half the stock.
5) You may want to turn the heat down a bit more. Arborio rice is high in starch and will stick to the bottom and burn easily, so you are going to have to stay close and stir regularly.
6) Season with a pinch of salt and add more stock if needed.
7) Cook the rice until you see just a small bit of white in the centre of the grain or just slightly al dente.
8) Mix in the cauliflower and truffle oil.
9) At this point the rice should be fully cooked.
10) Turn the heat off and add in the cream, butter and Parmesan.
11) Mix in the parsley and season with salt if needed.
12) The end result should be a creamy risotto.
1) If the risotto is too stiff, just add a bit more stock.
2) If too thin, then cook it out a bit longer.
3) It is important not to add too much stock at once, but to add gradually when needed.
No, I haven’t cooked this by myself, but I did watch the chef. As noted, he added crispy mushrooms and served this with duck confit. This recipe made 24 good-sized servings with the duck, with some left over — so measure accordingly. And throughout the cooking, more butter was incorporated into the recipe.