Mix-and-match meal

Risotto is endlessly accommodating. Though a recipe may specify, say, shrimp and garden pea, the dish would just as soon welcome pulled pork and green onion.

Leah Eskin

Home on the Range

February 28, 2010


Should you find yourself stranded in a cabin, on a mountain, in the snow, with no distraction save one overwrought puzzle, you will be seized by a desire to cook. Knocking around in the kitchen gives you something to do. And, conveniently, something to eat.

You forage through the refrigerator and find a remaindered rotisserie chicken. Also a few spears of asparagus, folded into leftover pose.

You flip through the foreign cupboards and dislodge a collection of boxes: pretzel, Oreo, rice.

Inspiration enough. Consigning pretzel and Oreo to hors d'oeuvre duty, you are struck by the obvious: risotto. It's creamy and comforting, and it offers distraction from the 1,000 burnt-red puzzle pieces awaiting assembly.

Risotto is also accommodating. Though a recipe may specify, say, shrimp and garden pea, the dish would just as soon welcome pulled pork and green onion. Even the risotto bedrock — Italian arborio rice — is negotiable.

You set to work. You shred the chicken and cast the carcass into a pot, along with a packet of snack carrots and a set of celery sticks. The scent of broth warms the kitchen. You slice the asparagus, strip down a lemon and envision all the pieces fitting together.

Your compatriots gather, surprised to find the stash of snacks melded into a meal. You all linger at the table. There's a long night — and 998 puzzle pieces — ahead.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor.


Multiple choice risotto

Prep: 15 minutes Cook: 40 minutes Makes: 8 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil (or canola or vegetable oil)

1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion (or white onion, red onion or shallots)

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

6 cups chicken broth (or beef broth, vegetable broth or water)

2 cups arborio rice (or white, brown or other rice)

2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (or poached chicken or pulled pork or leftover pot roast)

1/2 pound steamed asparagus, cut into 1-inch spears (or 1 cup steamed, sliced sugar snap peas, snow peas or defrosted frozen peas)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or parsley or rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence)

1 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest (or orange zest)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed (or 1/4 cup whipping cream)

Soften: Heat oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add onion, along with a little salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes.

Simmer: Meanwhile, heat broth to a boil and lower to a simmer. Keep hot.

Toast: Pour rice into skillet and cook, stirring, until glistening and toasted, 3 minutes.

Plump: Add 1 cup of hot stock. Cook, stirring, until liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1 cup at a time, until rice is firm but tender, 25 minutes.

Bolster: Reduce heat to low. Stir in meat, vegetables, herbs and zest. Cook until hot and flavorful, 3 minutes. Stir in cheese and butter (or cream). Taste and add a little salt and pepper, if need be. Enjoy hot.