Rice is one of the most basic gluten free ingredients that you can imagine- and ever since I can remember, it has been a staple of my life. The varieties of rice available around the world, along with the varied ways to prepare it, mean that rice never has to be boring. One of my favorite ways to prepare this modest grain is in Italian risotto, which involves sauteeing onions or shallots in oil, adding rice and letting it become translucent before adding vegetable stock in, one spoonful at a time.
I was inspired by Ursula Ferrigno’s book “Risotto: 30 simply delicious vegetarian recipes from an Italian Kitchen” to make vegetable stock and her delicate recipe for “Risotto with Watercress and Taleggio.” In keeping with my desire to try new things, this weekend I bought a beautiful fresh bunch of watercress from Whole Foods, with the roots still intact, and crisp fresh leaves. I also picked up Taleggio cheese especially for the recipe. Taleggio is a cheese which originates from the alpine cows of a valley in Bermago. The soft, buttery cheese is ripened in caves and is flavorful without embracing mold in the way its more pungent cousin, gargonzola does.
Risotto takes time… patience… and the perfect stock. And while usually I open a carton of gluten free and vegetable stock, I have recently become disillusioned by its strong flavor which often overpowers delicate recipes. Thus I decided to make vegetable stock from scratch. I painstakingly simmered fennel, carrots, onion, garlic, and celery for an hour and a half, and let the luxurious smell of homemade broth fill the house. Then I started the risotto. The recipe was not unusual, except that it called for 8 shallots, finely chopped, rather than the lazier (and much faster) chopped yellow onion that I usually use. Halfway through the cooking process, I added most of the watercress, which behaved much like a delicate baby spinach and retained its vibrant green color beautifully.
While the risotto was slowly simmering in its broth (one ladle at a time), I threw together some Italian Tofu from my book “Vegan with a Vengence”. This recipe involved marinating tofu slices and then baking these slices at high temperature, and finally broiling them at the end to increase the chewiness factor. I used Bragg’s amino acids as an alternative to my usual favorite, San-J low sodium wheat free tamari, as it is both less expensive and less salty. However, I think ultimately that for marinades, san-j is my favorite as Bragg’s has a little too much organic personality for most dishes.
Finally- the risotto was done. I stirred in cubes of taleggio and freshly grated parmesan, let it sit on the stove for a few minutes, and plated our meal, garnishing with a little fresh watercress and curls of fresh basil.
We both enjoyed the risotto, and felt extremely decadent. The creamy taleggio complimented the sweet flavor of the watercress, and the fresh garnishes added both texture and lightness to the dish. It struck me as a good recipe for special occasions, as it was a bit rich for an everyday meal. The stock was lovely, though- and the fennel and thyme in the recipe sang through beautifully, making the stock nice even to sip on its own. I had two precious cups of stock left after the risotto was done- and will label and freeze it until I can find a recipe worthy of it.
If you haven’t had risotto- you absolutely must try it. While it is often made with chicken stock, there is no reason it can’t be made vegetarian. And although cheese, especially freshly grated parmesan, is a popular garnish, it can also be enjoyed without cheese. If you want to do a dairy free risotto, to add special rich flavor and that little extra buttery “something”, i like to add toasted pine nuts and chunks of avocado when plating risotto. The avocado is especially nice if it is briefly dipped in wheat free tamari. Mmmm… Rice… Italian style, and wonderfully gluten free. Bon appetite!