Saturday, February 11, 2012

carrot•quinoa risotto

I love my town-- with its spectacular views, fresh air, laid-back neighbors and easy accessibility to the mountains, forests and surrounding small communities...  
That is, I love it when I'm not hating it.
I once drove past a neighbor's house on my way home to see him standing there in his front yard, beer can in hand, watching six-foot flames dance off a couch.  I do respect him for getting rid of his couch before winter came-- unlike the thrift store a few blocks away which had a couch sitting out front in the snow half the winter.  
And you have to love the urinal on the back of another neighbor's shed-- I'm just grateful for the fact that I cannot say with certainty whether or not it actually gets used.  I can, however, tell you with certainty that there are several cars and boats, a laundry truck, and an ancient bulldozer laying around that have not been used in years.
Amidst all this, across the highway from a three-story log tower inexplicably built onto a hodge-podge house, and sort of kiddy corner to the afforementioned snow-soaked couch-selling thrift store, lies an anomaly-- the local tavern.   
I used to hold the tavern in high regard.  It's spendy so we don't go there often, but we have always looked forward to it.  So, a couple weeks ago when Brock and I found ourselves out at dinner time and the kids at home with a sitter, we decided to spring for it.
Dinner started out nicely with a good white wine and a delicious Thai tofu appetizer. 
But I started to feel a little uncomfortable when the table next to us sat down and ordered a bottle of Dom Peringnon, just "to celebrate life" (in other words, to show off?).
My excitement for the place dwindled a little more when we got our entrees, two carrot quinoa risottos.  We had had this dish before and loved it.  But this time-- not so much.  There were about a dozen different vegetables in it, most of which were grossly overcooked.  I love Brussels sprouts when done right, but mushy ones have all the flavor of a dirty gym sock.  The light was too dim to even identify some of the other chunks, and they did not have the, um, distinctive taste of the Brussels sprouts.
To try to raise our spirits, we ordered the chocolate cake for dessert.  Sure bet, right?  
Brock thinks my Insane Chocolate Cake is better-- more moist and chocolatey.  I think I agree.
So, overall, for about $100 (a big chunk of change for us to shell out on dinner) we got a mediocre meal in a place with kind of a stuffy atmosphere.  
"I can do better," I thought.  Brock already said I've accomplished that with the cake.  Next came the quinoa...

I kept it relatively simple-- saving the Brussels sprouts for oven-roasting or grilling (the only ways to cook a Brussels sprout, in my humble opinion), and keeping what I liked the best from the tavern's version: whole grape tomatoes and pearl onions.
This dish takes a while to make, but a lot of the cook time can be spent sipping wine (I suggest something like Bota Box's 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel, as opposed to Dom) and reading blogs on your tablet while occasionally stirring the pot.  
This makes for a pretty relaxing evening-- and really cheap compared to the alternative.  We like to enjoy the risotto while looking out the windows at the Continental Divide, a ripped-up car tent and a flatbed trailer full of construction refuse, all dusted with a layer of fresh snow and lit by the fuchsia-hued fading late-afternoon light...  
My hometown in all its glory.

the veggies:
  • 1 1/2 cups pearl onions
  • 3 cups carrot juice
  • 2 cups veggie broth
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 2 cups sliced (at an angle) carrots (about 2 medium carrots)
  • 1 large shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 2 TBS lemon juice
  • 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan, plus more for garnish
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

the love:
  1. Boil a few cups of water in a medium saucepan and add the whole un-peeled pearl onions.  Cook for three minutes, then drain and rinse the onions in cold water.  Cut the root end off each onion and firmly but gently squeeze to peel each one.
  2. Heat the carrot juice and broth together in your medium saucepan and keep at a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  3. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan.
  4. Add the onions, stirring occasionally, for a couple minutes.
  5. Add the carrots, continuing to stir until the carrots and onions start to become tender on the edges.
  6. Add the shallots and stir until they start to become translucent.
  7. Add the quinoa, lemon juice, and tomatoes and stir well.
  8. Pour in some of the juice and broth mixture until the quinoa is just covered but some of the veggies are still peeking out.
  9. Adjust the heat if necessary, to keep at a healthy simmer.  Cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  10. Stir in the peas and add more carrot broth until the quinoa is just covered again.  Repeat until the liquid in the small pot is all used up, the liquid in the big quinoa pot is almost all absorbed, and the quinoa is done.*
  11. Stir in the 1/2 cup parmesan and season lightly with salt and pepper, to taste.
  12. Serve topped with more shredded parmesan. 
* You'll know the quinoa is done when it's translucent and no longer crunchy-- this takes about 40 minutes total for me.   Add plain hot water to the quinoa if your liquid runs out but the quinoa isn't tender yet.  At lower altitudes you may not use all the liquid, and it will likely take less than 40 minutes for the quinoa to cook.

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