Drum roll, please

Today I have two announcements, and another recipe keeping with my unintentionally citrus theme.

First off, I am proud to finally cross number 16 off my list Thirty Things to do Before Thirty; I have quit smoking. This is such an amazing feeling, I can hardly describe it. I’ve been ready to quit for a long time, I almost can’t believe I actually did it. I’d shout it from the rooftops, but I’m afraid someone might mistake me for Charlie Sheen and have me committed.

Second, I got a new job! I will finally be rid of the stress and frustration inherent in a call center position: the angry clients, the repetition, the cubicles. In one week (the longest week of my life, I think) I begin a new life as a retail associate for a local candy shop. Some may consider it a step down the career ladder, but I see more as a step up the staircase of sanity.
Now, for this risotto. Because it really is all about the risotto. Even at its most basic, with nothing but pearly Arborio rice, chicken stock, and a little salt, the result is so creamy, so savory, so absolutely ideal that no one should leave this earth without experiencing it. Now throw in a few ripe limes, a couple tart grapefruit segments, a bit of coconut milk, and a handful of curried walnut crumbs, and you’ve got yourself risotto that’s ready for a night on the town. Tangy, a little sweet, and with a light crunch, this dish is marvelous served with seafood, such as shrimp or crab meat. To be honest, I initially had this with a roasted chicken, and the flavors just did not meld. The smoky chicken was too heavy for the brightness of the rice. Seafood is definitely the way to go.
Risotto has a bad reputation for being a difficult, time-consuming dish that isn’t worth the trouble for the average home cook. This is true for some, but mostly false. Yes, it takes a while, maybe forty minutes or so. Yes, you have to stir it quite a bit, once every few minutes. But instead of being intimidated or griping about it, remember: this is real food, not Kraft Mac & Cheese. Would you forgo pot roast because it takes a few hours? Are cookies right out, too, because they take forever to roll into all those little balls? We acknowledge that these things take time and effort, and that it is entirely worth it. On the flip side, if you are the type to purchase the tubes of pre-made, pre-sliced cookies from the supermarket, this may not be for you after all. (Please don’t take offense! I am just making a general assumption that people who purchase pre-made or pre-prepared food typically a) don’t have a lot of free time, or b) cooking isn’t their forte.) So throw on your favorite cooking music (mine is Rosemary Clooney, what’s yours?), make your husband bring the laptop in the kitchen to keep you company, and get stirring!

Citrus Risotto with Curried Walnuts
Adapted from Zuni Café Cookbook
6 servings

This particular recipe does have a few extra steps, but keep in mind that they can all be done together. While the rice is simmering on the stove, you can be paring the citrus and roasting the walnuts, so that everything is ready at the right moment. The walnuts themselves are from the hors d’ouevre section of Joy of Cooking, but surprisingly, I found them a little bland for general munching. Twice roasted and run through a food processor though, they take on a smoky, complex flavor that serves to balance the risotto’s citrus notes quite nicely.

Quality is always an important factor, but for recipes like this where a few ingredients really need to shine, quality becomes quite necessary. The citrus should be very ripe, or else they will be too bitter, and the chicken stock should be homemade, if possible.

½- ¾ cup grapefruit segments (about 1-2 medium)
¼ cup lime segments (1- 3, depending on size)
(Cut the above fruit over a bowl, and reserve the juice that is accumulated)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup yellow onion, finely diced
2 cups Arborio rice
3 ½ – 5 cups chicken stock
¼ cup cream cheese
Curried Walnuts, to taste (see recipe below)
Salt

In a 4 quart saucepan (which I don’t have, so I just used my pasta pot) melt the butter over medium-low heat, add the onions and a generous pinch of salt. Cook onions until translucent, then add the rice. Cook a few minutes more, until the rice is coated with the butter and warmed through.

Add 2 cups chicken stock, and adjust heat so the liquid gently simmers. Stir frequently until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add another cup of stock, stirring again until almost entirely absorbed. At this point, you’ll want to taste it and add salt if necessary. Add another ½ cup stock, keep on stirring.

Break up the segments of grapefruit and lime into bite-sized chunks and add to the rice along with the reserved juice. Continue to cook rice as above, adding a ¼ cup stock until rice is al dente or desired consistency. Adjust salt as necessary. Once the rice is done, stir in the cream cheese. No need to be gentle here; a rough stir will help break up the citrus.

Serve immediately.

Curried Walnuts

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups shelled walnuts

Preheat oven to 315 degrees.

Combine first 4 ingredients in a skillet and cook over medium-high heat until very hot.

Add walnuts, and stir until fully coated. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until crisp.

Cool completely, then place in the bowl of your food processor and pulse until it resembles coarse crumbs.

Spread back on the baking sheet and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until golden brown.


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