Easy Cauliflower Risotto with Crisp Potato Bits

Whenever I make risotto I think of my friend Giulia, who grew up in Bologna, in northern Italy. I decided to make risotto for the first time a few months ago, and when I told her about it she immediately explained to me, "that's great, risotto is easy and delicious. But don't make it like French people - they don't know how to make any Italian food. Remember to add the broth one ladle at a time; les français ne suivent pas cette règle, et le risotto souffre" (according to Giulia, coffee in France is also horrific, and is something that should be enjoyed only in Italy).

I can't say for sure that risotto in France is bad. I have never eaten risotto at a restaurant here so I have no opinion on the matter. Either way, I took her advice and added broth to my risotto au fur et à mesure, a little at a time, and the result was lovely. Risotto made correctly becomes almost creamy and silken, while still maintaining a certain firmness thanks to the arborio rice. I thought about adding chopped and fried shallots as a garnish, but I decided ultimately on using a fingerling potato, since it provides a little more substance. You, dear reader, can add whatever you would like to top the risotto!

Truthfully, I also decided to make this because I have a giant box of arborio rice that has been resting in my kitchen for about 5 months now, and I'm just starting to make a dent in it. Since I also had parmesan in my fridge, I figured why not, let's try out this risotto with some seasonal cauliflower. So, here is the final product of my creation, which I devoured immediately after taking these photos, and although I don't say it often, I was pretty impressed with myself. If you try this, I guarantee you will have good results, it is pretty difficult to botch this one up. The recipe is relatively quick (maybe 35 minutes total, plus some chopping) and all the fun takes place in two pans (one for the broth, one for the risotto). You have to watch the risotto carefully since you'll be adding broth over time, but it is kind of fun to see how the rice changes and eventually reaches the perfect level of softness.

This recipe calls for 1/2 of a head of cauliflower; the other 1/2 you can store in the fridge for up to 1 or 2 weeks. You can use it to make cauliflower in a spicy peanut sauce, or try simmering it in some milk until tender, then pureeing it for a nice winter white soup.

Cauliflower Risotto with Crisp Potato Bits - Serves 1

For the risotto:
1 cup cauliflower florets (from 1/2 head of a small cauliflower)
3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 small onion, chopped
3/4-cup arborio rice
1/4-cup dry white wine
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan

for the potato bits:
1 small fingerling potato, cut into little dice
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Cut the cauliflower head in half, keep one half and store the remainder in the fridge for another use. Remove the center stalk and chop finely; roughly chop the florets.
2. Preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C.
3. Heat the stock in a saucepan, bring to a boil then to a simmer, and add the florets.
4. In another saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, onion, and celery stalk, and cook gently until softened, about 10 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, place potatoes on a lined baking sheet and toss with remaining ingredients. Bake until golden and crispy, about 15 minutes.
6. Once the vegetables are softened, turn up the heat, add the rice, and cook until slightly translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, stir, and cook 2-3 minutes more.
7. Now the fun part: start adding the broth, one ladle at a time, until the rice is soft on the outside with a slight bite on the inside, about 20 minutes. The florets should be soft at this point so you can add them with the broth and crush them into the rice with a wooden spoon
8. Once rice is cooked, stir in the parsley. Remove from heat. and stir in the parmesan. Garnish with potato bits.

Website Change

I am happy to say that I changed the layout of my website, in order to clean it up and make navigating through the pages a little easier.  I hope you will enjoy itsnew look, and that you will also find it easier to browse through the recipes. 

Unfortunately, because of this change you will have to sign up once again to receive emails from me.  It won't take more than two minutes to do, there is a button you can click on the right-hand side of the site, underneath the recipe list, to complete this.  I'm sorry to make you go through this trouble, I hope I haven't lost you as a reader!

Thanks so much for your understanding, I hope you will like the changes I've made.

Whiting Fish with Capers, Mustard, and Lemon

I don't know if you agree, but I think it's the glum January weather that makes everything in life seem a little more dull - or maybe it's the mysterious French cynicism that tells you to not even try to be happy or successful, just give up and have a coffee or a piece of stinky cheese. Whatever the reason, I have been trying to put some spice back into my daily routine, which I have somewhat accomplished by inviting more friends over for good wine, good food, and usually good conversation (sometimes there are bad eggs, no pun intended, but that is only to be expected).  I made this recipe for my friend Diana last week, who so enjoyed the tangy lemon sauce, as did I, that I decided to make it for myself again tonight.

I stumbled upon a similar version of this recipe in a French cookbook I have come to love, Les Secrets de Cuisine des Soeurs Scotto, written by three sisters who grew up in Italy and now live in France. I had the good fortune of working with one of the three chef sisters, Elisabeth Scotto, while I was interning at Elle magazine here in Paris.  Elisabeth's good energy and passion for simple, fresh, and delicious food are extremely contagious, and I found working with her to be a highlight of my stay so far in Paris. The recipes in the book are a mix of French and Italian fare, like their origins, and I just love the flavor combinations they come up with.

The fish I used is merlan, or whiting in english.  It is a fish that is cultivated in the Atlantic, but you can substitute whiting with any other flaky white fish, such as hake or cod.  If you love lemons like myself you will surely like this recipe.  I adore this tart fruit in all forms, either plain with sea salt or all dressed up in lemon meringue pie (although my favorite dessert will always be moelleux au chocolat, a chocolate apex of simplicity and refinement).

Papardelles aux Patates Douces, Saffron, et Romarin (Papardelle with Sweet Potato, Saffron, and Rosemary)

As happened last year, Europe is once again in shambles with the onslaught of snow and stormy weather, conditions to which the airports in Paris, London, Gatwick, and Roissy are not accustomed to.  I know I got lucky: I left Paris on Friday afternoon and made it home-free to San Antonio, Texas, where I'm spending Christmas with a handful of other family members.  I know there are many other travellers who, like myself, are hoping to make it safe and sound back to their loved ones, so I am writing this post for you in the hopes that you make it.

While packing for my trip and worrying about my 18-hour travel day, I decided to make this pasta which involves sweet potatoes in puree form.  Sweet potatoes are exactly what their name suggests, sweeter versions of their more common and starchier potato cousin, and they are wonderful consumed in many different ways.  Although I normally eat them in wedge-form with a honey-mustard dipping sauce, I decided to stray from the norm this time and try something I have been interested in for a while, which is using sweet potato as a pasta sauce.

After making the first stop on Rue Montorgueil in the 2nd arrondissement to pick up the sweet potato, I headed over to one of the numerous Italian traiteurs (essentially an Italian gourmet grocer and deli) to pick up my papardelle.  I also used this stop as an occasion to practice my nearly non-existent Italian, which I present to the vendor with confidence and a smile - this doesn't get me far, as they always respond to me in French. Pick up my tagliatelle, and make my last stop before heading home: Nicolas, one of Paris' largest wine caves,which has numerous stores around the city and whose salepeople can always point a less-than-perfect wine connoisseur in the right direction.  I explained to the store clerk what kind of pasta I would be making this evening, and he recommended several light red wines from the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France.  In case you didn't guess already, the main reason why I decided to go with this one is because of the lovely cherub on the wine label, in addition to its name, the Saint of Love - how could a young woman refuse?

The pasta is relatively straightfoward and easy to make.  Cooking the sweet potato over the stove prevents you from having to use a food processor, because it gets so soft you can just mash it with a fork.  I also like the chunky consistency it produces; however, if you want an extremely smooth sauce, you can certainly process it.  If you decide to use the saffron (which enriches the color and enhances the aroma), I suggest using whole threads, and crushing them as finely as possible in order to dilute them well in the water.  Happy holidays from Texas - take some time to relax and cook for yourself, you certainly deserve it!

Papardelle aux Patates Douces, Saffron, et Romarin - serves 1

1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
Enough papardelle for one person (about 4 ounces/110 grams)
1/2 teaspoon crushed safrron, dissolved in 1 tablespoon warm water (optional)
1/2-cup cream or milk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
3-4 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan

1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add sweet potato pieces, cover the skillet, and cook, stirring occasionally, until sweet potato can be easily pierced through with a fork, about 25-30 minutes.
2.  Once ready, remove sweet potato pieces from saute pan (leave the skillet on the stove, you will reuse it later) and mash with the back of a fork until you have a puree.  Season with salt and pepper.
3.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package instructions.
4.  Meanwhile, return sweet potato puree to the skillet and reheat over medium-low heat.  Stir in milk until blended.
5.  Stir in saffron, rosemary, and parmesan.  Add tagliatelle and toss to combine.  Adjust seasoning to taste, serve immediately.

Wine pairing: a light red, such as a Burgundy or a pinot noir from California (I drank a 2008 Saint Amour Domaine des Billards)

Crêpes à la Clara

Fitting that after just having spoken about my affinity for crêpes in the city of lights, that I should travel to Spain for the weekend, only to make crêpes for the first time with my cousins!

Madrid has never signified very much for me, so I am grateful to discover it through the eyes of family that lives there.  It is a beautiful and sunny city (I note sunny because Paris in the winter can only boast of grey skies and dreary afternoons) that specializes in pane con tomate, jamon iberico, and many other splendors which I was happy to chow down on during my short but sweet stay.  Although my visit was on the underextended side, my cousin was sure to show me some of the best of what the city had to offer, which naturally included a visit to the Mercado de San Miguel, an indoor market located in the heart of the city.  Walk around and visit the numerous vendors, order a copa de vino, and nibble on some of the market's many offerings: croquetas, marinated olives or anchovies, fresh-shucked oysters and much, much more.  It's hard to have a bad time under such pleasant circumstances.

Sunday afternoon we delighted in arroz, Spanish rice which this time was prepared with various vegetables and brought out in an oversized vat for six people to indulge in.  Although I grew up on Basmati rice, I can't help but enjoy spoonfuls of soft and flavorful round white rice that is both soaked and coated in rich broth and white wine.

But perhaps the delight of my stay was learning that my cousin's daughter (which would make her my second cousin, correct?) is an avid cook and has even started, at the age of ten, making her own recipes!  So Clara, the lovely cook in the photo below, showed me how to make crêpes, which I learned is simple so long as you remember to keep the crêpe as thin as possible, to ensure even and golden cooking.  While I enjoyed my crêpe with maple syrup and sliced bananas, Clara swears by Nutella.  However, this French-style pancake can certainly be enjoyed as a savory dish: prepare the crêpes exactly the same way and fill with such ingredients as grated cheese, sauteed mushrooms, roasted vegetables, ham, or some or all of the above. The portions we made together are for 3-4 servings so I reduced them to be suitable for one crêpe.

If you're making a sweet crêpe, you will likely want to pair it with a sweet wine, such as a Muscat, or a fruity white, such as a Vouvray.  And even with a savory crêpe, a sweet white such as Riesling should pair well.  Enjoy mes amis!

Crêpes à la Clara - serves 1
15g (1/2 oz) butter
30 g (1 oz) flour
6 cL (2 fl. oz) milk - whole or skim is up to you, you can also substitute water
olive oil for the pan
fillings as you wish, some ideas are: nutella, honey, sugar, butter, banana & maple syrup, or ham, cheese, & mushroom for a savory filling

1. Combine the flour and milk in a bowl.
2.  In a saucepan, melt the butter.  Once melted, add it to the flour and stir with a whisk to combine.  You want the consistency to be like scrambled eggs before they have been cooked.  If you find it is too thick, add more milk to thin it out.
3.  Dab a cotton swab or a tissue in olive oil, and wipe it all over a crêpe pan or a large saute pan.  Heat over medium heat.
4.  Add batter to the pan, and immediately swirl the batter so that it evenly covers all of the pan.
5.  Once bubbling and cooked through (usually about 2-3 minutes), flip over with the help of a thin spatula and cook through on the second side, about 1-2 minutes more.
6.  Slide onto a plate, cover with desired fillings, and fold to form a wrap.  Drizzle with extra fillings if desired, and enjoy while hot.

Thank you Claricita!