Dinner:  May 7, 2007

As you may have noticed, risotto is one of my go-to dishes for weeknight dinners. It is so easy to prepare, and provides such a wonderful backdrop for a wide variety of flavors, that you really can’t go wrong with it.

When planning our meals for the week, I decided that I wanted to do a vegetable risotto enriched with goat cheese. I thought about doing an asparagus risotto – a spin on the version Mark Bittman wrote up in the Times last week – but the asparagus we have had recently has been so fresh and tender, I am hesitant to do much more to it than lightly steam or sauté it, or toss it with a little salt and olive oil and roast it. I decided instead to go with red peppers, roasted until sweet and smoky. Ideally, I would have done them over a hardwood fire on the grill, but it was late by the time I got home, and it was a bit too breezy and cool outside, so I decided instead to just roast the peppers in the oven.

roasted

It’s an easy enough process – just section 4 peppers into two or three big pieces, removing the seeds and cores, place them on a foil-lined sheet pan, sprinkle with salt, drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes. When the skins are blistered and charred, remove the peppers from the oven, place another sheet of foil on top of the sheet pan and seal up the edges. Allow them to sit in a cool place for 20 minutes or so, then peel off as much of the skin and charred bits as you wish (I like a bit of the skin left on mine; some people don’t, so really, it’s a matter of preference).

While the peppers cooled, I warmed up a quart of homemade chicken stock in a pan, and peeled and diced an onion. I melted two tablespoons of butter in two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and added the onions to the pan. I seasoned them with a bit of kosher salt and allowed the onions to soften.

I placed my roasted red peppers in a blender, added about a cup of the warm chicken stock, and pureed until smooth. I then poured the rest of the stock in, gave it another whir, and then poured the red pepper/stock mixture back into the pan so it would stay warm. I put about a cup of water in the blender carafe, swirled it around to get any red pepper puree that was clinging to the sides and added that to the red pepper/stock mixture as well.

carnaroli

I cooked the risotto as I usually do (using 1 1/2 cups of Carnaroli rice, 1/2 cup white vermouth, a splash of sherry vinegar, and the red pepper/stock mixture). With the last addition of liquid, I stirred in 4 oz. of soft fresh goat cheese in two batches, stirring well so the first batch melted and was incorporated before adding the second. I stirred through another tablespoon of butter off the heat, spooned the risotto into bowls, and topped each with a few shavings of aged goat cheese. I rounded out the meal with a salad of tender young spinach leaves Mike had picked up from Yuno’s at the Greenmarket.

tender leaves

This may have been one of the best risottos I have made – the flavors were extremely well balanced, with the sweet and smoky flavors of the red peppers and the tart and creamy flavors of the goat cheese all present. It’s definitely a keeper.

Ameztoi Txakolina 2006

Wine Pairing: After a (too) long absence, I returned to Vine Wine on my way home from work yesterday to pick up a bottle to go with our meal. I was happy to see wine guru Troy there when I walked in, and after chatting for a few minutes, I asked him for his recommendations. He chose two Spanish wines, one of which we had had before, and another one we hadn’t, which I ended up going with.

The 2006 Ameztoi Txakolina is a really unusual wine from the Basque region, very bright and citrusy, and lightly fizzy. It had a nice sort of mineraly quality that would likely make it delicious with any sort of shellfish, but it was absolutely killer with this risotto. It’s one to remember for future meals.

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