Friday, November 20, 2009

Worth the Journey: Italian Sausage Risotto with Brown Rice

It's all true, those rumors that you've heard. I really am one of those people who will try anything once -- I figure that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. So, why not?

I'm particularly adventurous when it comes to food.  
Differently colored vegetables? I'm in.
Strange seafood I've never heard of? ALL over it.
Funny smelling cheese?  Oh, yeah. Gotta get me some of that.

Needless to say, when the opportunity arises to make something healthier, I generally find myself unable to resist. This time around, it started with a bit of ordinary brown short-grain rice.   

Outpost Natural Foods had it on sale in one of their bulk bins, and I found myself thinking (always a very dangerous proposition).  If you can make risotto with white arborio rice, which is short-grain, why couldn't you make risotto with brown short-grain rice? So, I decided to give a try.

I pulled out a bag filled with the Principe Borghese tomatoes that we'd dehydrated last summer, and pondered the possibilities.  It seemed as if I could make the most of their intense tomato flavor by rehydrating them in the stock I was using for the risotto.  So, that's exactly what I did. 

While the stock was warming, I got all of the other ingredients together -- market fresh locally grown rainbow Swiss chard (along with their gorgeous stems), locally made Italian sausages, and some diced sweet onion.

I sauteed the onion with the chard stems in a bit of olive oil until they began to show signs of tenderness. I added the sausage, which I'd removed from its casing, and gave it a bit of time to brown just a bit around the edges. My sausage was relatively lean, so it didn't leave off too much fat.  What it did render, I left in the pan for flavor. I added the rice and gave it a whirl in the pan to coat the grains with the oil; and, after they toasted a bit I added a splash of dry white wine to give everything a bit of additional flavor.  When the wine was fully absorbed into the grains of rice, I started adding the stock cup-by-cup.

Those of you who have made risotto before know that this process doesn't take long at all, and it's by no means arduous.  You simply stir the rice faithfully until the grains absorb the liquid, and then add additional liquid.  The entire process might take 20 minutes -- and, to be honest, I've really grown to love it.  For me, risotto is real cooking. It takes practice to tell when the rice has absorbed enough liquid that you can add the next dose.  It takes rhythm to stir the grains, turning them onto themselves so that they absorb the liquid evenly and efficiently.  It's repetitive. Relaxing. A meditation of sorts.

Well, I'm here to tell you that it takes quite a bit longer when you use brown rice.

Before you write me off as a completely ignorant dork, I need to tell you that I definitely expected to have to add a bit of time to the process. After all, brown rice simply takes longer to cook than white rice.  But, I didn't expect it to take... an hour and fifteen minutes.

uh-huh. So much for all that talk about meditation. I stirred. I added stock. I waited. I watched. And I felt a little bit like I was watching the pot that was never GOING to boil, simply because it was being watched. I even walked away for a while and just let the risotto simmer away for a while. Just as I was about to give up hope and declare my project a failure, the rice actually submitted to my charms and began to achieve the nice creamy consistency that you expect in a good risotto. I will admit to feeling a bit victorious.

I stirred in the rehydrated tomatoes, along with a liberal handful of freshly chopped basil.  I also added about a cup of grated pecorino romano cheese.

Even after the long wait, it was difficult to be disappointed with the risotto. Even the mere smell of it as I scooped it into serving bowls was simply intoxicating.  The fresh peppery smell of the basil slipped out of the pan first -- followed by the distinct briney odor of the romano cheese.  Even the deliciously sweet smell of the fennel from the Italian sausage was evident in the steam that wafted up from the bowl.

In taking my first bite, I noticed that the rice still put forth a bit of resistance against my teeth -- just the sort of resistance you want with an al dente risotto.  Even better yet, the brown rice imparted that slightly nutty flavor that only a whole grain can give.  I was really loving what I tasted.  It was more than just healthy -- it was exactly right.

And I smiled.  Sometimes dinner isn't about the journey. It's about the destination.

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  1. I love making brown rice risotto! I am definitely going to have to try your combo because I am drooling all over my keyboard now.

  2. I would say after the great success of your beet risotto, this would be fab as well! I wonder if you soaked the rice overnight if it may cook a bit faster? Might be worth a test...though I think I've got a lot of food to eat up prior to Thanksgiving.

    And those tomatoes! Do you have a proper dehydrator for such endeavors, or use an oven?

  3. Great post. And... "Funny smelling cheese? Oh, yeah. Gotta get me some of that." LOL

  4. Interesting, I never thought of making risotto with brown rice, despite the extra time it sounds totally worth doing.

  5. I love everything in this risotto. Everything.

  6. Rebecca - Soaking the rice is actually a great idea. Would require me to think ahead (heh) -- but I'll bet it would definitely cut down on the cooking time. Love it.

    We do have a "proper" dehydrator. I inherited it from my mom, who bought it in the 1980's when dehydrating stuff was "all the rage" :) Aside from the fact that I could use more racks (and I can use another gadget like a hole in the head), it's been awesome!

  7. Oh my this looks wonderful,I am relishing in your victorious dish. It so reminds me of a dish my mother prepared with my uncles fabulous homemade Italian sausage. Too bad that one escaped me, but hey I'll be trying this out for sure. I can see myself swiping the bowl a nice hunk of homemade crusty bread.

  8. Wow, your risotto looks delicious, love the ingredients in it...yummie!

  9. I love risotto and your recipe sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing :)

  10. I totally love risotto and make it all the time, but I have never made it with brown rice... Interesting to try that one. Yours looks delicious!

  11. Man! An hour and fifteen minutes? Holy smokes. I get frazzled when it starts pushing the twenty minute mark. It does sound wonderful. I recently saw a risotto recipe that called for red wine to be added first instead of the normal white.

    Hope your Thanksgiving was a wonderful one.


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